Ithaca College Will Make You Ready
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“Imagine not being able to talk at all,” said Maritsa Sherenian. “And you’ll have an inkling of what life is like for people with speech disorders. Even telling someone they’re thirsty is very, very difficult. They’re isolated in their own skins. Imagine that.”
Maritsa has not only imagined that, at IC she’s confronted it.
“I had my first clinical placement as an undergrad at Ithaca,” she said. “It involved accent modification with a young boy. It appealed to me because I was one-on-one with someone who needed help.”
Maritsa also formed one-on-one relationships with faculty.
“I did research for a professor who was studying college students’ awareness of autism,” Maritsa said. “Like all the faculty, he was a great help. They all knew when to push me and when I needed a gentle hand.”
Though Maritsa applied to several grad schools, Ithaca was her first choice.
“I knew I’d thrive here, especially since I already knew the professors,” she said. “That was huge.”
Also huge was the revelation Maritsa had once she was in the grad program. It took place in a horse barn.
“Children with autism typically have trouble developing natural speech,” Maritsa said. “One of my professors, Tina Caswell, was addressing that issue with a therapy program that placed autistic children on horseback and equipped them with iPads containing speech-generating software.”
Maritsa assisted with the program. The children, she said, became different people.
“The horse’s gentle gait calmed them. In that better frame of mind, they focused on the iPads and sent messages to their parents—not just about basic needs but also about what they were feeling. Moms and dads told us that for the first time, they could have a conversation with their children.”
The experience was also a first for Maritsa.
“I’d ridden horses since I was 10 or 11, and it dawned on me that an activity I loved could be a treatment option. Before, I’d pictured speech therapy as sitting in a small room with a client. I was open to new directions.”
Though Maritsa’s other graduate school experiences didn’t take place around horses, neither did they happen in enclosed spaces. For example, she spent two semesters working with a 13-year-old girl with Rett syndrome, a rare form of autism.
“Rett syndrome robs children of their muscle control and therefore their ability to speak, but they often retain their cognitive faculties,” Maritsa said. “With help from assistive technology, the young lady was able to convey how she felt. When she let me know she liked to make jewelry, we began making jewelry. Rarely had she experienced that kind of interaction. The world had always seen her as some tiny little girl, but she was a teenager, and she knew full well what was going on around her.”
Maritsa spent the last semester of her graduate program in full-time externships, one with autistic middle schoolers and the other with pediatric patients at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
“Friends at other grad schools have told me they hadn’t gotten the hours of actual work I did at IC,” Maritsa said. “They were more in the classroom, listening to a teacher explain something, while I’ve worked in clinics and one-on-one situations.”
Those opportunities to observe and discover, she said, will serve her well as she begins her job as a speech therapist at an elementary school.
“Society needs speech pathologists. My six years at IC have given me the foundation to be a first-rate clinician.”
As an Academic Enrichment Services tutor, writing center tutor, and teaching assistant at Ithaca College, Julia Becker has enjoyed helping other students on their paths to success. Her plan after graduation is to become an English teacher—but when she came to IC, she was unsure about her direction.
Julia entered Ithaca College’s Exploratory Program, which gives students up to four semesters before declaring a major to take courses across IC’s five schools, receiving focused advisement and mentoring along the way. “I’m an organized person, so not knowing what I wanted to do was kind of stressful,” Julia says. “The Exploratory Program at IC gave me a direction and a plan to get me going on a path that felt right.”
As a sophomore, Julia explored English as a possible major. “I took Intro to Poetry and [Approaches to] Literary Theory, and it just clicked. I hadn’t taken an English class since high school, and once I settled into it I realized that’s where I was supposed to be.”
As part of the Ithaca College Honors Program, Julia took her newfound love for English to the source with a semester abroad in London, England. Through an independent study course of her own creation, Julia collaborated with IC professor Robert Sullivan on his literary work. She spent weeks in the Rare Books Reading Room of the British Library, transcribing an original work by Renaissance-era humanist Sir Thomas Elyot. Julia and Professor Sullivan will eventually create a modern critical edition of the 16th-century book.
“Having the chance to work on something so unique that will result in a publication credit to my name is a valuable experience that I never imagined I could have as an undergraduate.”
Discovering her passion for English made Julia realize she wants to share it with others. She was accepted to the educational nonprofit Teach for America, and will be teaching English to secondary school students in a disadvantaged area after graduation. She also plans to pursue an English Ph.D. to become a professor.
“Working closely with students at Ithaca to help them excel and teach them important skills has been a rewarding experience. It has helped prepare me for the teaching that I’ll be going on to do in the future.”
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