Some people go to school so that they can make a difference in the world when they graduate, but Maritsa Sherenian ’11, M.S. ’13, was not interested in waiting that long. First as an undergraduate in IC’s speech-language pathology and audiology program and then as a graduate student, she has dedicated her time inside and outside the classroom to helping people with speech disorders overcome the obstacles they face every day.
“Imagine not being able to talk for an hour,” Sherenian says. “Then imagine not being able to talk at all, and you’ll have an inkling of what it’s like for people with speech disorders. Even something as basic as saying they’re thirsty is often beyond them. They’re isolated in their own skins.”
IC’s speech-language pathology program is designed to give students the tools they need to help others overcome those problems, but it’s the experience Sherenian has gained in the field that has truly prepared her to make a difference. As an undergraduate, she spent her first clinical placement helping a young boy with accent modification. And during her first year of graduate school, she worked with preschoolers through a program called Head Start, which helps families that have lower socioeconomic status and greater risk of health problems.
“What you’re doing is playing and talking and interacting with them and giving them the good models of language,” Sherenian says of the Head Start Program. "So I thought that was really interesting and really helpful to know that we can do the therapy to help ‘fix’ what’s going on, but there’s also the preventive aspect.”
Working with Non-communicative Children
Sherenian followed up her experience with Head Start by working with a young client who suffered from Rett syndrome, a disorder of the nervous system that can inhibit verbal expression. Using pictures and pre-made pages, Sherenian helped her client develop her ability to communicate.
“She would choose the topics for us to talk about,” Sherenian says. “She loved jewelry, so we would make jewelry some days. We potted a flower one day, and she told us the steps that went along with it. She was the one in control of everything.” For Sherenian, the process wasn’t just about gaining experience—it was also about empowering someone by helping her to engage with the world. “She has not been able to speak for 13 or 14 years of her life,” Sherenian says. “Now she has a voice. She has her own voice.”
Sherenian believes this sort of firsthand experience is part of what makes studying speech-language pathology at IC exceptional. “I have friends who went to undergrad here with me who went to other graduate schools for speech language pathology, and what I’ve found is that they’re not getting as much of the clinical aspect as we are getting at IC,” she says.
Working with Horses and iPads
Through IC’s graduate program, Sherenian has had opportunities to see how speech-language pathology is being practiced in new and creative ways. One such opportunity is Strides©, an equine therapy program for autistic children that blends horseback riding and modern technology. The program is put on by Southern Tier Alternative Therapies.
“The horse’s gentle gait calms them,” Sherenian says. “In that better frame of mind, they use iPads to send messages to their parents. My eyes were opened to the variety of treatments available.”
The unique angle on speech therapy offered by Strides© has inspired Sherenian to explore new possibilities in her own career after graduation.
“It’s not just sitting in a small, enclosed room, which is what speech therapy is a lot of the time,” she says. “You’re out in nature; you’re out in a totally different environment than you would normally get with speech therapy. So that’s something I would love to integrate into my own work when I am more established. I’d love to do something like that myself.”
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