Anna Prielipp remembers sitting in her first-grade class taking part in a lesson on short and long vowels and thinking, "This is living. This is what I want to do."
Her teacher took note of her aptitude for learning and desire to help others and allowed Prielipp to mentor her friend who had cerebral palsy.
"She and my mom noticed I had the patience and compassion for that," said Prielipp, from Britton, Michigan, who is a second-year master's degree student in the speech-language pathology program in Central Michigan University's The Herbert H. & Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions.
Prielipp is one of 40 graduate students who spent six weeks this summer working in the Summer Speech-Language Specialty Clinic, held for the first time in the new Child Development and Learning Laboratory housed in the College of Education and Human Services Building.
Working at the clinic is required for all second-year speech-language master's students, but students looking to become early childhood teachers, physical therapists and audiologists also take part. Undergraduates also can work half days.
The camp began 72 years ago as a six-day residential camp and changed to a day camp in 2003, but its purpose has remained to help children — from Mount Pleasant to Switzerland — improve their ability to communicate and to give hands-on experience to the student helpers.
"Communication is the foundation for academic, social and life success. For this university to be able to work with 100 children in the summer and improve what they need for success, that is huge." — Sue Woods, former summer clinic director
Challenging yet fruitful experience
It can be challenging for the clinicians, who provide about 100 children with 60-120 hours of intensive training, depending on their age. The children come with a range of needs: hearing loss, stuttering, speech-sound disorders, language and reading disorders, cochlear implants, and autism.
"This is designed to be a facsimile of a workday in an intensive environment to push student clinicians out of their comfort zones to prepare them to work with groups," said Sue Woods, who has worked as camp director and in other posts for more than 30 years. She retired after this year's camp ended Aug. 3.
The work is challenging but a great learning experience, said Prielipp, who was responsible for three children at the camp. It takes a lot of brainstorming and collaboration.
"It trains you for working in public schools, where you could be given a group of children with a variety of needs, and you need to address all their needs," said Prielipp, who aspires to work in an intermediate school district or a pediatric outpatient rehabilitation facility.
"This is ideal for me," she said. "I get to use my talents in a way that I can serve people in the community who might not always have a voice to speak for themselves."
Woods said: "Communication is the foundation for academic, social and life success. For this university to be able to work with 100 children in the summer and improve what they need for success, that is huge."
Broad collaboration is a goal
Extending that reach into the community is one of a number of goals for the clinic, said Mary Beth Smith, the summer specialty clinic director.
"Community involvement is key," Smith said. "You can't just fix the disorder. You have to empower a family to work on this together, and we need the help and funding support of the local community."
Smith envisions workshops focusing on family-centered care, such as behavior management, parenting skills and feeding assistance. And she is striving to increase collaborations among university colleges and departments.
She also has been approaching local groups and businesses to increase financial contributions. This year she has brought in close to $45,000 for the camp, the most she has ever raised, she said.
Woods said she is in full support of Smith's goals: "It makes it a bit easier to retire, knowing that the program is in marvelous hands."
Woods takes great satisfaction in having helped guide many students over the years, including Prielipp. She taught Prielipp's first class at CMU and approved her application into the graduate program. Woods made a deep impression on her.
"It's not just the clients and the children Professor Woods is passionate about, but also about us as clinicians," Prielipp said. "She knew that by pouring her experience into us that we will pour it into all the clients we will work with in the future."