UK gets $3.2 million grant to help speech-pathology students

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Public Affairs) – The University of Kentucky College of Health Sciences Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) program received $3.2 million in funding from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) to lower financial hurdles for speech-language pathology (SLP) graduate candidates who are from an educationally, economically, or environmentally disadvantaged background.

The scholarship program, Strengthening Underserved Communities through Enhanced Student Support (SUCCESS) in Speech-Language Pathology, began in 2016 and has granted 64 students to date with financial assistance totaling more than $1.5 million.

“This grant provides robust scholarships and is an incredible opportunity to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds reduce or eliminate their student loan debt,” said CSD Department Chair Anne Olson, Ph.D.

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Many students who apply for SUCCESS are first-generation college students, and the program also includes those who graduated from a high school with academic performance metrics that are below national and state levels, or who are from an Appalachian county or low income family.

The Appalachian region of Kentucky is one of the most economically depressed and medically underserved areas in the nation. Appalachia has a high demand for SLPs and students from the region who wish to pursue the profession often face challenges due to financial barriers.

Tayler Fleming, a SUCCESS scholarship recipient and Letcher County native, said she was inspired to pursue speech language pathology after experiencing first-hand the impact an articulation disorder (speech disorder involving difficulties in articulating specific types of sounds) can have on a loved one in a medically underserved region.

“I watched my family member benefit from going to speech therapy, but I also saw the difficulties my parents faced with finding access to this type of care where we lived,” Fleming said. “I always wanted to choose a career where I could change someone’s life while also making a difference in eastern Kentucky. I took an introduction to CSD class and immediately knew I found the right path.”

Although active recruitment for the program is mainly held in Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee, CSD faculty inform students from all states and backgrounds about this scholarship opportunity.

For example, Taylor Puryear is a current SLP student from Maryland who applied for the HRSA scholarship after encouragement from Olson and Joe Stemple, Ph.D., during her time as an undergraduate with the college. She leaves prospective SUCCESS students with these words of advice.

“Don’t let your past or current circumstances stop you from pursuing your goals,” she said. “You have made it this far and you can go even further.”