Ms. Sara Straley decided to work in the field of communication sciences and disorders (COMD) after discovering an interest in different modes of communication, particularly sign language, and the experiences of those with hearing loss as a junior in high school. That same year, the Cincinnati-native made a campus visit to the University of South Carolina that solidified her career path.
“I fell in love with the Horseshoe and the overall feel of the campus,” Ms. Straley says. “I jumped at the opportunity to attend as an undergraduate, and it’s been a great experience to continue my education through my graduate program.”
[Ms. Sara Straley]
Ms. Straley majored in public health for her bachelor of science degree, cultivating her interest in communication and hearing loss through a minor in COMD. “I really enjoyed learning about all of the different areas of health and health disparities,” she says. “There are many different aspects to choose from which makes it a great major for those of us who were unsure of what we wanted to do during our freshman year!”
Her junior year, Ms. Straley met Dr. Krystal Werfel, who specializes in literacy achievement for children with hearing loss, through Dr. Werfel’s phonetics course. She quickly teamed up with the assistant professor in Dr. Werfel’s written language lab as a volunteer to gain research experience. Now entering the second year of COMD’s Master of Speech Pathology program, she has continued refining her interests through her coursework and clinical experiences. “This program is so rewarding because we get to immediately begin working with clients and seeing what type of growth an individual can make during treatment,” Ms. Straley says. “I’ve also really enjoyed the specialization of our courses, now that I’ve nailed down what I want to do with the rest of my life!”
She’s continued building her research experience as a graduate research assistant on various projects with Dr. Werfel as well. “I’ve seen Sara grow from an undergraduate who was just beginning to learn about research to being a project coordinator of a federal grant,” says Dr. Werfel. “There is a paucity of research in the area of hearing loss and literacy acquisition, and it is exciting to see a budding researcher with Sara’s interests.”
Ms. Straley believes these types of experiences helped her to be selected for her most recent award, the American Speech-Language Hearing Association’s Students Preparing for Academic-Research Careers Award (SPARC) (see last year’s Arnold School winners). She will use the award’s $1,000 stipend to help fund her master’s thesis project this fall, with plans to present the findings at the 2017 Society for the Scientific Study of Reading Conference (learn about COMD professor Lesly Wade-Woolley, who led last year’s conference, and is a member of Ms. Straley’s thesis committee).