Faculty Shape Research Opportunities Based on Current Events

Regardless of program, Saint Mary’s graduate students complete coursework in research methods and a research project. Many students take this a step further and apply their new skills and understanding to additional capstone, practice innovation, practicum, or other projects. Faculty keep research fresh and timely by allowing students and current events to shape the direction of research.

Research methods courses in Autism Studies, Speech Language Pathology, and the dual degree programs introduce the language of research, ethical principles and challenges, and the elements of the research process within each of their fields. Students learn the strategies, processes, or techniques utilized in the collection of data or evidence for analysis in order to uncover new information or create better understanding of a topic. Through these courses students gain the knowledge to be good consumers of science and researchers. This past year provided a unique topic of unprecedented impact of COVID-19 on many professions and our day-to-day lives. The pandemic has affected all parts of our lives, including how we access education, our mental well-being, and our access to therapy and medical services. Graduate students in these programs are studying the relevant and important impact this is having on access to therapy services and quality of life.

Students in the Master of Autism Studies and Dual Degree programs are investigating the impact of COVID-19 on children on the autism spectrum. Under the direction of Professor Jennifer Burke Lefever, students taking Autism Research Design and Methods developed a survey covering topics of health, mental health, and education. This study will focus on COVID-19’s impact on:

  • the overall well-being of children,
  • challenges related to their access to services and social opportunities,
  • mental and physical health,
  • changes in routines,
  • interruptions in education, and
  • new sensory challenges.

Participate in Our Study

Students in the Speech Language Pathology program are investigating the impact of teletherapy on client’s progress towards speech language goals. In the Research Methods course under the direction of Dr. Carla Youngdahl, small student research groups will investigate therapy progress data from specific groups of clients grouped by age range, specific therapy goals, and mode of therapy (teletherapy or in-person). Each research group will be paired with a faculty mentor with expertise in the area and types of clients they will be investigating, such as Dr. Kim Boynton and Dr. Karin Thomas.

With this research students are looking beyond the individual. Looking at progress among groups of clients can help inform the decision making when forced to make difficult choices of who is offered in-person therapy and who can thrive with teletherapy. It can also inform the risk to benefit ratio that is needed when thinking through how to deliver the most effective and beneficial therapy while also keeping everyone involved safe and healthy.

The Judd Leighton Speech and Language Clinic provides educational opportunities for approximately 70 graduate and undergraduate students each year offering direct speech and language therapy services to more than 100 clients. The client population includes pediatric, adolescent, and adult individuals with developmental and acquired disorder types. In March 2020, the Clinic moved to a virtual format for therapy. Teletherapy has been used in many areas to address the shortage of speech language pathologists nation-wide and to reach rural and under-served areas. Students in our clinic have gained experience with this delivery model prior to the pandemic. COVID-19 and closures greatly expanded the use of this therapy method. Moving into Fall 2020 the clinic was able to offer in-person therapy sessions and teletherapy, which has opened up the opportunity for direct comparison in therapy progress with different therapy delivery models.