Hi! My name is Pamela (Pam) Williams and I am a speech-language pathologist (SLP) working with elementary school aged children. I became an SLP after a long road of obtaining my Bachelor’s degree in Communication Sciences and Disorders from the University of New Hampshire (UNH 2000), taking a year to finish a dual major in Psychology (wanted a counseling course which the COMM DIS department didn’t offer – they do now!), then completed my Master’s degree by December, 2006. So you can see I am fairly new at this, but have the benefit of age and experience (I am a Baby-Boomer, let’s leave it at that ;)) that has always been a plus during my schooling and employment. I raised two children, a girl and a boy, which also gave me better insight on how children develop and grow – the child development classes were a review (for the most part) for me – I lived it!
Some people ask how I came to choose this profession. It was a rather meandering start – I had the yearning to go back to school and get a degree so that I could get a good-paying job. My children were older by then, and becoming very independent. I knew I would have to take out student loans to help pay for school, so I wanted to be sure to choose a profession that would have a job for me when I left school. I briefly considered nursing (there’s always a need for nurses), but quickly discounted that when I realized my penchant for fainting at the sight of blood or a needle sticking into someone might not be a good attribute to have in that field! So I began perusing the want ads and saw a job posting for a “Speech-Language Pathologist”. I thought, “What the heck is that?” It was for a school, and because I love children, thought that maybe that was something I would enjoy. I was volunteering at the time on our town’s Advisory Budget Committee and knew a fellow member was an SLP, so asked him about it. He gave me a rundown on the job and told me to “go for it”, as there would always be a job out there no matter when I finished school. He was right about that!
So, I began the long process of applying to UNH (I was fortunate to be living within 10 miles of a university that had a COMM DIS program) with my student loan approvals, application for admission, and high school transcripts in hand. The woman in the admissions office was politely skeptical of my abilities (let’s just say that my later years in high school weren’t especially stellar, except for Art :)) and warned me that a bachelor’s program (especially COMM DIS) was very demanding and that I should consider another career path as a back-up. They put my first year on “probation” and basically expected me to fail. I remember thinking at the time, “I’ll show you, woman!” (except I didn’t use such a lady-like term at the time) and I did – I made Highest Honors that first semester and some kind of Honors designation every term thereafter. I never did go back and wave my congratulatory letter under her nose as I was tempted to. I realized she must have seen others in my position and just wanted to be pragmatic about it. Even a professor in our “Intro to Communication Disorders” (they added the “Sciences” label later) warned us, “This won’t be a walk down the garden path!” It did give me pause, but only served to bolster my desire to do well and get this degree!
A lot of it was difficult, but I wanted this so badly (and was paying for it, too) that failure was not an option. I worked 2-3 jobs most of my college career – field merchandising jobs (made my own hours – that was a plus) and driving buses (another flexible schedule) – that was tough, but necessary, as I needed money for what the loans didn’t cover. My children were such good sports about it all, and made me proud at the way they put up with my absences and the need for quiet when doing homework. That meant staying up late into the night, and sometimes all night, to get papers done, as children can’t be quiet for very long!
I brought them to campus quite a bit, and they soon learned how to get around on the shuttle buses (which I was driving by then), made use of the library, came with me to classes once in awhile (once, an Oceanography field trip to the Isle of Shoals for my daughter who was interested in marine biology at the time), and even on bus charters to fun places. They enjoyed getting meals at the MUB’s (Memorial Union Building) food court, and attended many concerts and productions as well. I guess I felt I was shortchanging them at home, so wanted them to see why I loved college so much and wanted them to share in my joy at being at school, too.
So many people were so supportive to me over my years at school – even the smallest encouragements were so appreciated and recalled when I needed them the most. One of my biggest cheerleaders and a source of emotional support was my Freshman English instructor, Meredith Hall. I made an inauspicious entrance on the first day of her class – blowing into her class of 20-odd young students, sweaty and late, as I had encountered a lack of parking and ended up parking illegally because there was no place to park (that spot cost me $50!) I was mortified and I thought the look she gave me was withering at best. I soon realized she had a heart of gold, honestly cared about each one of her students, and turned us into writers, one way or another. Weekly writing conferences included conversations about going to school as a single mom while working, and grappling with the need to write about things that had great emotional meaning, but were difficult to bare to the world. This came back to me years later when she published her first book, “Without A Map”, her story as a young girl becoming pregnant out of wedlock. Not such a big deal nowadays, but back then it was a different time and it was emotionally wrenching to read her story. I now knew where she was coming from when she told us the best writing comes from your own story, using your own voice.
So many other mentors during my journey to become an SLP – my professors – especially Dr. Christine Guarino – a fellow class clown in heart – her classes were always joyful and her experiences enriching. Dr. Sheryl Gottwald, Dr. Penelope Webster, Dr. Fred Lewis, Dr. Stephen Calculator, Dr. Steven Bornstein (the epitome of a class clown), Mary Jane Sullivan, AuD. – their passions for their particular areas was obvious and they brought to life the book-learning that we absorbed every day. I also give thanks and credit to my supervisors over the semesters I did practicums (internships) – grueling (because of working and taking classes at the same time) but enriching experiences that were so important for learning how to operate “in the trenches”. Thanks to Carolynn Marsh, Susan Holak, Susan Lanzara Fass, and Ivy Boggs – all excellent SLPs and infinitely patient and accommodating to me during my fledgling forays into speech-language therapy.
And lastly, I can’t forget the “Mom Club”! When I began my graduate program, it was surprising and delightful to discover three other women about my age in our class of 20. The younger students dubbed us the “Mom Club” and we accepted that label happily (we also had an “honorary” member who wasn’t a mother at the time, and not as old as us, but she was older than our peers). That was an unusual percentage of older students and I was grateful for taking that extra year to finish my dual major, as that put me in this class with these women who became my closest confidantes, cheerleaders, and commiserators during and after my school years. Nine years later, we are still in regular touch, and meet about once a year to get together and share our lives and reminisce, of course! I love you, Cheri, Kathryn, Linda, and Sam!!
I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy this profession – it has everything I could want in a career – it’s challenging, you can work wherever you want and with whatever age group you want, you get to use your creativity, you get to use technology (it forces you to keep up, which is a good thing!), you get to write, you have to read a lot (all my favorite things to do), and best of all, you get the chance to help someone achieve a goal, a most satisfying (and humbling, as when you realize it wasn’t all your doing) and rewarding feeling one could ever have!
If you know anyone who is open to learning more about speech-language pathology – encourage them to check it out! Now that the Internet is so prevalent and far-reaching, it is an easy thing to research virtually anything from your computer and checking out possible programs and job opportunities is a cinch!
Pamela J. Williams, M.S., CCC-SLP
(and I’ll never forget the first time I signed off on something with that accreditation – it was the best feeling ever!!)