CHS Graduate Student Supports SLP Program’s Successful Transition to Remote Learning
Vibrianna Avila, a first-year graduate student in the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (SLP) Program, has taken on a critical role this spring – keeping her undergraduate peers engaged within the pandemic-induced remote-learning environment.
“As a student myself, and specifically during remote learning, I understand the positive influence of support and resources when it comes to success in the classroom,” she said.
The SLP Program utilized UTEP’s CARES funding to hire Avila as a teaching assistant (TA) and assigned her to support Drs. Amelia Rau and Benigno Valles and Ms. Deena Peterson in their undergraduate courses, SPLP 3313, 3314, and 4312. Like all TAs hired through the CARES funding, Avila was required to attend a university-wide orientation on effective practices for student engagement and expectations. Ultimately, Avila and her CARES TA peers are serving as the boots on the ground for the Provost’s Office, providing the personal contact and support necessary to keep students from underperforming in classes or withdrawing due to pandemic-related stressors.
As a TA working within a remote environment, Avila also had to learn the mechanics of UTEP’s Blackboard platform. Via Blackboard, Avila tracks students’ participation and is able to identify any patterns of inactivity, thus enabling the professors to proactively reach out to students who may be in need of assistance. She also holds virtual office hours for additional academic and personal support.
In addition to her role in monitoring student performance, Avila is identifying supplemental materials and helping design thoughtful assignments to increase student interest and engagement in the virtual environment.
“[Avila] recently sent me three videos that I used to teach content in my class, SPLP 3314 Language Disorders in Pre-School Children,” Peterson said. “These kinds of tasks have a big impact.”
In Dr. Amelia Rau’s 4312 Neural Bases for Speech Language Pathology course, Avila is assisting Rau in achieving her objective of translating otherwise difficult content through mindfulness, interactive notes, and engagement activities.
One such activity is an ungraded “coffee house” threaded discussion, where students share neuro-related health and mindfulness media. The creative effort being put into the curriculum design is paying off, as evidenced by students’ submissions. In the most recently posted topic, “Cerebral Blood Supply and Vascular Pathology,” students were asked to build the brain’s blood supply using common household items such as paper, pipe cleaners, clay, licorice, or yarn and to post photos of their submissions. Rau was particularly drawn to one student’s picture of a soldered blood supply model.
“The best part is these assignments are nothing but a drop in the bucket of the final weighted grade, and yet our students put so much heart and soul into them,” she said.
In Dr. Benigno “Benny” Valles’ SPLP 3313 Disorders of Articulation and Phonology course, Avila is leading students in weekly supplemental phonetic transcription exercises, where students learn the critical skill of transcribing English to the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
“[Avila’s] work will be essential in providing more transcription opportunities to master the application of the IPA into clinical practice,” Valles said.
Avila, who will graduate in May 2022, believes that this “eye-opening” experience is benefiting her both academically and professionally.
“This position has allowed me to further dive into content from the viewpoints of my mentors and has given me a personal experience with John Maxwell’s quote: ‘You never really know something until you teach it to someone else,’” she said. “As a certified special education teacher and future speech-language pathologist (SLP), being actively involved…has given me the opportunity to work alongside recognized SLP's, guide my peers, and gain experience that not every graduate student gets to experience.”
Following graduation, Avila plans to become a pediatric speech-language pathologist and eventually open her own practice, specializing in children with secondary language impairments. The CARES TA position has also provided her an alternative future in academia following her clinical practice.
“I am also considering receiving my PhD and coming back to UTEP to teach future professionals,” she said.
For more information about the Speech-Language Pathology Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/slp .