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North Hills Monthly

Thiel College Adds New Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology

Sep 24, 2019 10:13PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

Mary Beth Mason, Ph.D. and student Quinn Ursprung ’20 work with a child on speech-language techniques.

For the first time in its 153-year history, Thiel College in Greenville will be offering a five-year graduate degree.

Born out of a growing need in the labor force for speech-language professionals as well as a desire to serve the surrounding community, in May of 2020, Thiel will welcome its inaugural class of postgraduates seeking a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology. Speech-language pathologists are communication experts that work with people with a variety of communication disorders that can include stuttering, swallowing problems, difficulty producing certain speech sounds, voice problems, and speech and language problems resulting from medical issues like strokes.

The program, once implemented, will be a natural transition for Thiel undergraduates who major in communication sciences and disorders (CSD), as it is conceptualized as an accelerated fifth-year program.

“We have made it incredibly seamless for our undergrads, totally by design,” said Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the College Elizabeth Frombgen, Ph.D. “With next year’s first-year class, students who qualify can be admitted into the graduate program if they meet the expectations and maintain the standards all the way through; it’s a pathway to make it as easy a transition as possible.”

As part of its strategic plan, Thiel College had been considering initiating a graduate program for about three years. Because of the strength of the CSD undergraduate degree, with many students in the field pursuing graduate degrees at other institutions and having successful outcomes, as well as a growth area in the labor force, college administrators believed that this program made perfect sense for Thiel.

“There is such a need in the labor force, and this degree provides incredible diversity for graduates who want to stay in the region; we only thrive if our region thrives,” said Frombgen.

After a rigorous review that included site visits, interviews and reviews of Thiel’s strategic plans, the program recently was awarded candidacy status by The Council on Academic Accreditation in Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, which allowed the college to begin accepting applications and enrolling students.

Mary Beth Mason, Ph.D., will serve as director of the new program and as a professor of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Most of Mason’s clinical experience has been with the geriatric population. She has taught at Clarion University and most recently served as the department chair and graduate program director at Edinboro University. She is also quite active in her field, with many organization memberships and publishing credits to her name.

“I came to Thiel because it has always been my dream to start a program from the ground up, and I can’t imagine a more supportive environment to do that than at Thiel College,” she said.

Mason added that this is a growing field. “The nice thing about speech-language pathology is that we practice across the lifespan, from birth to the geriatric population. And we can work in a variety of settings.”

What both Frombgen and Mason are especially enthusiastic about is the newly constructed speech and language clinic on campus, a place where students can accrue their required clinical training hours, and one that will be free to the public.

“Having an on-campus clinic is important to this program because we want to be able to give back to the community; we want to be able to provide this for Greenville and the surrounding communities,” said Mason.

“This is just the perfect marriage of resources to be able to offer these services to the community but also benefit our grad students by allowing them to obtain supervised clinical hours and practical experience right on campus,” she added.

A considerable selling point for potential applicants is that the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology is an accelerated program, allowing students to complete four full semesters in 15 months versus other programs that run for two years. The curriculum is equivalent to a typical two-year program, but it can be completed sooner because of an earlier start time and because it runs through the summer.

The college aims to admit at least 10 graduate students to its inaugural program; applications are now open. Having graduated from Thiel College is not a prerequisite for admission, though having an undergraduate major in CSD or having taken an equivalent curriculum is necessary.

Samantha Keys is the first student to have been admitted to the new graduate program. Keys graduated from Thiel in 2017 with an undergraduate degree in communication sciences and disorders and knew that she wanted to obtain a master’s degree in the field. After hearing that Thiel was in the process of adding this graduate degree, she put her career goals on hold, working at another job to build up her resume, and then applied once she heard it had been approved.

“I’m beyond thrilled to be the first accepted student in a graduate program at Thiel; I’ve been waiting for this for almost two years now,” she said, adding that her undergraduate experience at the college was fantastic. “I grew up in Greenville and always wanted to go to Thiel. I always felt comfortable; the classroom sizes are small, and the professors are wonderful.”

Thiel College is about 70 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Located in Mercer County, it was founded as a private Lutheran college. Nearly 800 students are enrolled at Thiel, which offers more than 60 majors and minors balancing between liberal arts and professional programs, with business being the most popular major along with an incredibly strong accounting program. Sociology, education, and psychology are other popular majors.

The addition of the graduate program is a pretty significant step for the college and is indicative that changes are afoot for Thiel, including plans for a new MBA program as well as a graduate program for physician assistants.

“It means that we’re moving in a different direction. We recognize that our students, in many cases, will get a master’s degree, immediately or later. We thought about how we position ourselves, how we can support our students,” said Frombgen. “Adding a master’s program was an evolution, and we’ve chosen particular ones that speak to our strengths, and ones that can most directly benefit the area around us.” 

Mason is excited to begin her new job duties. “All of my interactions have been fantastic. Students are inquisitive, hard-working, motivated, and I’m really excited about working with Thiel undergrads and helping them transition to the graduate program. The faculty and staff here are incredible as well,” said Mason.

“I’ve only ever worked in public higher education, so coming to a small private college has been a big change, and a change I am really welcoming,” she added.

Frombgen is equally thrilled that Mason is coming aboard. “She is such a great fit for this. We know that having the right leadership in the right place is incredibly important,” she explained, adding that college did a national search to find the best person for the position.

Frombgen is also looking forward to the opportunities and growth that this new program will likely bring to the college.

“I hope that it brings people to campus for the clinic. I hope we can serve our community, and that it becomes a really great opportunity to engage many members of the community,” she said. “I want to see graduate students thrive; I want to see them out being wonderful speech-language pathologists, and making their alma mater proud.”

To learn more, visit www.thiel.edu/slp, or contact Thiel’s Office of Admissions at admissions@thiel.edu or 724-589-2345.