Meet Our Leaders - Dr. Vannesa Mueller - Director, SLP Program
In this series, the College of Health Sciences shares the personal stories of the leadership of our academic departments and programs, including their transition into higher education and lessons learned along their educational pathway.
Dr. Vannesa Mueller is associate professor and director of the Speech-Language Pathology Program in the College of Health Sciences. Dr. Mueller completed her PhD in Speech and Hearing Science at the University of Iowa.
Are you a first-generation college graduate?
No, my father is a physician, so he has an MD. My mother is a hair stylist. She has her GED and graduated from beautician school.
Did your parents/family discuss higher education within your home? If not, please share how you were inspired to pursue a college degree and go on to graduate school.
My family never really discussed it with me, but it was not really a question for me. I had always planned on going to college. The field I chose, speech-language pathology, requires a master’s degree to practice clinically, so graduate school was a must. I made the decision to go on for my Ph.D. when I was an undergraduate student. My teacher in a language development class mentioned doctoral programs and the fact that many doctorally-educated individuals were needed in our field. She mentioned that conducting a master’s thesis was a good way to decide whether you liked research or not. The first day of my master’s program, I told my academic advisor that I wanted to conduct a master’s thesis. This was very unusual in my program. No one could remember anyone ever having conducted a master’s thesis. Nevertheless, I found a professor who could mentor me, and I fell in love with research.
Did you receive financial aid and/or scholarships to assist with tuition expenses?
I took out student loans to pay for my bachelor’s and my master’s degrees. I felt comfortable doing so because I knew I would be entering a field where work would be easy to find, and I would make enough money to pay off the loans without much hardship. I thought of my loan payments as my phone or electric bill. I just paid it every month. For my Ph.D., I received a fellowship at the University of Iowa. My tuition was paid for, and I was given a stipend that was more than enough to live on. For two years of my program, I worked as a teaching assistant. This was very beneficial because I was given a course to teach on my own, which helped me to develop my teaching skills.
What do you recall about your first day in college?
I started my undergraduate degree at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C. I’m not sure who gave me the guts to move from El Paso to Washington at the age of 18. I knew no one. I remember begin excited. I was not scared, but ready to see what I could do. Another memorable day was the first day in my Ph.D. program. My major professor sat down with me in his office and told me that I was there because he and the rest of the faculty knew I could be successful. He told me that my acceptance was not a mistake. That alleviated MUCH pressure! I felt a little like a fraud, like if the admissions committee took one more look at my application, they would rescind their invitation to be part of a Ph.D. program in the highest-ranked program in the country. What my mentor shared with me that day was incredibly impactful. I share the same with the incoming master’s students in the Speech-Language Pathology program at UTEP every year.
Please share one of the greatest challenges you experienced while in school and what you did to overcome it.
Challenges have always been part of my educational experience. I am a person who stutters. During my Ph.D. program, it was very severe. I was unsure of myself, my worth, and my ability to succeed. Overcoming these feelings of self-doubt, which are at the same time caused by the stuttering and exacerbates the stuttering, has been a long road. I still stutter, but accepting my flaws and learning to appreciate the unique perspective and heightened feelings of empathy the stuttering has afforded me is priceless.
What is your favorite memory of your time in college?
My favorite memory of my time in Washington is the time spent at the Einstein Memorial, which is a huge statue of Albert Einstein that you can climb. I would bring a sandwich and a book, and sit on Einstein’s huge lap and enjoy the freedom and accomplishment I felt being on my own.
If you could go back in time to deliver a message to your younger self, what would you say?
I would tell myself that the hard times pass and are necessary, to learn what you should from those challenges, and to remember to be grateful.
Please share something interesting or funny about yourself that you would like students to know.
I absolutely love working with kiddos that have severe challenging behaviors! I like the kids that throw things or shout or hit. I love it when my own kids show some moxy and strong will, and challenge me and my systematic, empirical brain to come up with creative ways to manage their behaviors. Keeps me on my toes!
For more information about the Speech-Language Pathology Program, visit: www.utep.edu/slp/.