Grand Valley set to debut new master’s program


Classes for the speech-language pathology master's degree will take place in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences in Grand Rapids. ©

Grand Valley State University will unveil a new speech-language pathology master’s degree in August. The program will be finalized later this week and will become part of the department of communication sciences and disorders in the university’s College of Health Professions when classes begin.

Speech-language pathology is a relatively new field of study at GVSU. The school only began offering the program at the undergraduate level three years ago when Jean Silbar, a speech pathologist and member of the faculty, got the academic offering headed in the right direction in 2009.

A year later, Beth Macauley came aboard to put the curriculum together and then got the program approved.

“The student response has just been wonderful. Our undergraduate students involved in the program have doubled every year,” said Macauley, an associate professor in the GVSU department of allied health sciences and graduate coordinator in the speech pathology program.

With the growth of the undergraduate program, Macauley said the demand was there for GVSU to take it to the next level. Plus, a master’s degree is needed to become a certified professional in the field.

“The undergraduate program is basically a pre-professional preparatory program for a graduate program. Up until this year, our undergrads had to go elsewhere for graduate school, and 99 percent of them said they wanted to stay here,” said Macauley.

“So we have been working toward developing the graduate program for the past couple of years, as well. We’re going through the accreditation process now through our national organization, the American Speech and Hearing Association, and we hope to have everything in place when we bring in our first group of 30 students in August.”

Those enrolled in the program will be required to complete 60 credit hours of didactic and practical coursework over four semesters. Students can be admitted in the fall and winter semesters. Classes will be held in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences at 301 Michigan St. NE. The program won’t offer online classes because students will spend much of their time working in clinical situations.

A proposed curriculum for the four semesters can be found at Click on “majors and programs” in the top left corner and search for speech-language pathology.

After graduation, Macauley said graduates will work with children to help develop their language skills, even assisting them with basics like how to pronounce the letter R correctly. They will also help adults with brain damage and those who’ve had a stroke or are suffering from dementia.

“In schools, a speech pathologist is required to meet the government’s guideline for best practice. So children with language, speech, stuttering, hearing issues and voice issues, a speech pathologist is required to serve them. And for speech pathology, a master’s degree is the level required for certification,” said Macauley.

The U.S. Department of Labor reported that speech-language pathology is one of the nation’s top 10 growing professions; employment of pathologists is expected to increase by about 19 percent through 2018, which is faster than the average occupation. Forbes magazine listed the job as one of the least stressful career positions available.

The GVSU master’s program will be the sixth such offering in the state and the second in the city. Calvin College has a five-year program that awards both undergraduate and master’s degrees.

“All of our clinical practices will be done in the community. We do not plan on having an on-campus clinic like many other programs do. We want our students out serving West Michigan from the beginning, and the West Michigan speech pathologists have welcomed us with open arms,” said Macauley.

The Grand Rapids Public Schools, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital and public schools in Ottawa County are three of the places GVSU students have worked.

“Our ability to place students in those sites has drawn a wonderful response,” she said.

Macauley said GVSU undergraduates want to stay at the university because they feel the professors are quality teachers who have established close relationships with them. Because of the success the speech-language pathology program has had over the past three years, she said the program will hire more faculty members who will be required to maintain that favorable standing with the students.

“We are currently searching for five new faculty for fall, which is amazing,” she said. “We’re looking for three tenure-track faculty and two clinical associate professors. Our main objective is to find people who fit that criteria — excellent teachers who are very personable with the students.”

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