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Thesis Option

The thesis is not required for all students, but is suggested for students who have maintained a QPA of 3.500 and are interested in pursuing doctoral-level study and/or clinical research activities. Students who elect the master’s thesis option will not be responsible for taking the comprehensive exam. A student interested in exploring the thesis option must meet with Graduate Program Director as well as with the faculty member whose expertise is in the area of investigation. The student will work with the faculty member to review the literature in the chosen area and develop the research proposal. A Thesis Handbook is available to help guide each student through the thesis process. 

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Recent Theses 

Amanda Spaeth, ‘21 
Title: School-Based Speech-Language Pathologists’ Perceptions of Training and Competence for Telepractice Service Delivery
Committee: Dr. Lena Caesar (Chair), Dr. Janet Preis, Dr. Brianne Roos
Abstract: Delivery of speech-language pathology services in the United States public school system dramatically changed in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. To comply with the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) national guidelines, schools implemented distance learning to protect students from the spread of COVID-19, and related service providers (including speech-language pathologists) were mandated to continue providing services via telepractice. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to investigate SLPs’ perceptions of their training adequacy, relevant knowledge and competence for providing telepractice service delivery. The study also investigated SLPs’ familiarity with ASHA’s roles and responsibilities for telepractice service delivery, and their perceptions of competence for providing telepractice services. This study used an online survey-based methodology to collect quantitative and qualitative data from 178 United States school-based speech-language pathologists providing services via telepractice. Results from the study indicated that although the majority of respondents perceived themselves as somewhat competent to implement telepractice service delivery, older SLPs felt less competent and less well-trained than their younger counterparts. Issues related to training, knowledge, familiarity, and perceived levels of competence are also discussed. These findings have implications for future research regarding the quality of training provided by graduate programs and employers.

Mairin Srygley, ‘21
Title: Training Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Students in Anti-Racist Praxis
Committee: Dr. Janet Preis (Chair), Dr. Brianne Roos, Theresa Alexander
Abstract: There appears to be no literature documenting attempts to train speech-language pathology (SLP) graduate students in racial equity issues and anti-racist service delivery despite empirical support for training in the fields of social work, education, medicine, and other human services professions. This thesis presents the findings of a quasiexperimental research investigation of an anti-racism pilot training program for 38 SLP graduate students at a predominantly White institution. The paper interrogates the relevance of teaching speech- language pathologists (SLPs) about anti-racism, evaluates the application of anti-racism training best practices in a SLP graduate program context, and explores methods of assessing anti-racism training learning outcomes. All students participated in a six-session anti-racism training that explored foundational terminology of anti-racism, the history of anti-Blackness in the United States and healthcare, and applying anti-racism to clinical practice by using culturally-sustaining pedagogy as an anti-racist strategy. In addition, 14 of the 38 participants completed a seven- session peer mentorship program to extend the training experience over a longer period of time and provide a space for cooperative learning and problem-solving. The quantitative evidence presented in this paper triangulates direct and indirect assessment data on knowledge, skills, and attitudinal change and uses parametric and non-parametric statistical tests to measure at two time intervals (before and after the semester) within the whole participant group and between experimental and control groups. Preliminary findings from indirect measures (i.e., surveys) indicate all participants reported statistically significant increases of anti-racist awareness, knowledge, and skills with direct measures (i.e., treatment plans) indicating that participation in the peer mentorship program contributed to greater anti-racist clinical skills. The data presented in this paper suggests that it is possible to measure how teaching anti-racism to SLP graduate students can lead to knowledge, skills, and attitudinal change. Ultimately, this paper proposes a change in the field of SLP, urging SLPs to no longer engage in a professional culture of silence but rather to engage in critical awareness of the racial dynamics of society that affect SLP clinicians and clients every day.

Devon Terwilliger, ‘21
Title: How Caregivers and SLPs View Rapport & Parent-Coaching in the Online Environment
Committee: Dr. Tepanta Fossett (Chair), Kimberly Bell, Dr. Lena Caesar
Abstract: As a result of the global pandemic which began in the spring of 2020, many healthcare providers began conducting their services via telehealth. This occurrence motivated a need for evaluation of the efficacy and perceived satisfaction from both the people providing the services and those receiving them. While the skills addressed through therapy are the same, the technological changes associated with the telehealth service delivery model may affect various aspects of those services. Within the field of speech-language pathology, building relationships with clients and caregivers is essential for progress. Additionally, equipping parents with the skills they need to facilitate their child’s progress is paramount. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to investigate how speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and parents/caregivers perceive rapport and parent-coaching via telepractice compared with in person SLP services. This study utilized an online survey to collect information from 205 individuals (138 SLPs and 67 parents) who currently provide or receive speech/language services for speech sound disorders (SSDs) via telepractice, respectively. The results of this study indicate that the majority of SLP and parent respondents felt more satisfied with speech/language services via telepractice than in person services. Additionally, the results indicate that SLPs perceived differences in the amount of time and ways in which they build rapport and provide parent coaching via telepractice compared to in person, while most parent respondents did not perceive those differences. These findings have implications for future research and future applicability of virtual speech/language services.

Kirsten Wollschlager, ‘21
Reading Comprehension: A Mindful Approach
Committee: Dr. Marie Kerins (Chair), Lisa Tolino-Hill, Dr. Lisa Schoenbrodt
Purpose: Reading comprehension is a critical skill integral to a student’s academic success and necessary for life-long learning (Durkin, 1993; Stevens et. al, 1991), yet many individuals struggle with this. Comprehension is an integrated skill that requires students to have vocabulary and discourse knowledge, (e.g., fictious stories or expository text), coupled with the application of executive functions, such as inferencing or predicting (ASHA, n.d.). Thus, integrating all these skills suggests that comprehension is a higher-level process that cannot be easily taught as a discrete skill, a stark contrast from teachable skill of decoding (Kahmi, 2007). The purpose of the study is to determine if integrating target vocabulary terms using metacognitive strategies can improve reading comprehension by asking the following questions:
(a) Does activating metacognitive strategies (prior knowledge, think alouds, self-questioning) improve recall of taught vocabulary terms?
(b) Does the ability to accurately recall and apply vocabulary terms improve reading comprehension?
Method: This intervention study used a multiple, consecutive probe design (Tawney & Gast, 1984) across six subjects with a measure of maintenance. The six subjects were between the ages of 8 and 12years and had a diagnosis of a language-based learning disorder.
Results: The results demonstrated that the use of metacognitive strategies had a positive impact on the ability to recall taught vocabulary terms and improve reading comprehension skills. All six participants showed evidence of consistent improvement from the employment of metacognitive strategies during reading comprehension tasks during intervention and maintenance.
Conclusion: In conclusion, this study found that the use of metacognitive strategies had a positive impact on the ability to recall taught vocabulary terms and improve reading comprehension skills. These findings support that metacognitive strategies can improve reading comprehension when applying strategies to key vocabulary terms associated with reading comprehension. Applying metacognitive strategies to key terms was successful with this group of school-age language impaired children. Ideas for future research include replicating these findings with participants of different ages and diagnoses to add additional generalizability to the findings. Future research could include children with expressive language difficulties who anecdotally showed improvement in this study in their ability to define and use vocabulary terms.

Rebecca Grossman, ‘20 
Title: Self-Awareness and Voice Education in Speech-Language Pathology Graduate Students
Committee: Dr. Tepanta Fossett (Chair), Dr. Sally Gallena, Dr. Paul Evitts
Abstract: Glottal fry is a vocal register which has gained attention for its increased prevalence in young female speakers, as well as its linguistic and perceptual implications. This characteristically “creaky” voice could be a sign of a vocal pathology but has also been associated as a linguistic marker at the ends of phrases to indicate phrasal boundaries. Recent research has been particularly focused on listener perceptions of glottal fry in young female speakers (Anderson et al., 2014; Yuasa, 2010). Graduate students of speech-language pathology (SLP), the majority of whom are young females, must often rely on their awareness and perception of vocal quality to drive effective treatment. Academic and clinical coursework in graduate programs for speech-language pathology aim to build competence in the graduate clinician’s awareness of voice characteristics of their patients, but there has not been literature to date, which examines whether graduate students are aware of their own use of glottal fry. The aim of this controlled, between-groups, descriptive study was to examine the SLP graduate student clinician’s self-awareness of their use of excessive glottal fry, and whether formal voice education contributed to this self-awareness.  Results showed no significant relationship between formal voice education and the use, or self-awareness of, glottal fry. However, a small increase in self-awareness was noted within the educated group. This study contributes to research which suggests that vocal education may improve general awareness of glottal fry, but further awareness education may be needed to increase SLP graduate student clinicians’ self-awareness of their own vocal characteristics.

Kourtney Wathen, ‘20
Title: Effect of Chorus Intervention on Voice and Speech in Persons with Aphasia
Committee: Dr. Sally Gallena (Chair), Dr. Janet Preis, Thomas Thompson
Abstract: Aphasia chorus is gaining popularity in the field of speech-language pathology for its impact on patient quality of life through music and community with others. However, little is known about the effects of chorus on aspects of voice and speech in persons with aphasia (PwA). The purpose of this study was to measure change in voice quality and speech fluency in PwA who attend aphasia chorus as part of a weekly intensive aphasia program at a university graduate clinic. We used a within-subjects pre/post design consisting of acoustic and perceptual voice screening, articulatory agility analysis, and sung word intelligibility analysis. Eligible participants were consented using an aphasia-friendly form designed using yes/no questions. After the baseline voice and speech screening, participants attended eight, 1-hour, weekly chorus sessions as part of the intensive aphasia program posted by the clinic. Chorus sessions were comprised of a structured voice and speech warm-up using evidence-based principles followed by choral singing, wherein one song was sung consistently each week, with two other songs that varied each week. The results showed a significant increase in cepstral peak prominence (CPP) and sung word intelligibility in the refrain of the consistently sung song, and near significant effect on maximum phonation duration (MPD). The findings of this study suggest that a weekly chorus intervention consisting of voice, speech, and singing exercises may improve voice quality and sung word intelligibility for PwA.


Tips for Students Considering a Thesis

These tips have been compiled from students who have completed a thesis. The major theme throughout is that a thesis is challenging, but very rewarding!

  • Choose something you are very interested in so you are excited to find an answer to your question. This is a long term project; you need to pursue something you care about. It gets painful and tedious- but ultimately it’s fun and exciting.
  • Don’t be afraid of the thesis option, even if you decide late. I started my thesis relatively late in the game (May of the first year) and it is possible to do in a year. It will be easier if you set yourself a schedule and keep to it.
  • Brush up on statstics
  • Start working as soon as you can—don't wait until the second year to get your project ideas and proposal started
  • Reach out to your thesis committee before your defense—use them as resources! They have lots of insights to share and you don't want to wait till the last minute to consider their input
  • When you’re reading for your lit review, take written notes with citations instead of highlighting important passages. It will make it so much easier when you remember an important fact but don’t remember which article it came from.
  • Remember that your thesis committee is there to support you. Don't be intimidated. Respect the feedback they have to give and grow from it. It’s not personal, they just want to help you prepare the best defense and final product possible.
  • Use RefWorks (available through the Loyola/Notre Dame Library) and use it hard. Also, download the Write-N-Cite extension. It’s not 100% correct every time but it is right most of the time and it will save you so that much anguish.
  • If you feel like you aren’t finding what you need in the existing literature just get creative. I found a lot of my literature following avenues not necessarily related to speech and language pathology. Also, if you or your friends have a certain set of skills, exploit it. I recruited my sister, an electrical engineer, to create the computer program that created the novel stimuli for my study. She is listed as a co-author.
  • Once in the final stages of writing, think about where you might want to submit your manuscript for publishing. Don't wait!