Alum trains next generation of clinicians

Sarah reads to a boySarah Stuntebeck (BSE’00, MS’02 Communicative Disorders) planned to pursue a career in medicine when she first arrived on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus for student orientation.

But she needed a three-credit course to fill a hole in her schedule, which prompted her mother to flip through the registration packet in search of a useful class. In doing so, she happened upon Communicative Disorders 110: Introduction to Communicative Disorders.

“So I took the course,” Stuntebeck says. “I didn’t even know the profession existed before that.”

Stuntebeck is now a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. She also owns and operates a private practice (Janesville Speech Therapy) in Janesville, Wisconsin. It’s unlikely she’d be doing either if it wasn’t for that first class with Professor Emerita Lois Nelson.

As that fateful semester wore on, Stuntebeck became more and more hooked, not just by the course, but by the field of speech pathology as a whole. She liked the way it incorporated teaching. She liked that it was rooted in research and that it drew from a medical perspective. Most of all, she liked the wide variety of niches within the field – from working with the young to the old, from in-home therapy to positions in schools, clinics or hospitals.

“The more I learned about what the field was about, the more I thought, ‘I’d like that. And there’s that? Oh, I’d like that, too.’ As the course unfolded, I was drawn to all parts of it,” says Stuntebeck, who also met with Nelson outside of class to learn more about the profession.

Stuntebeck credits her Communicative Disorders education for equipping her with the right balance of theoretical knowledge, research opportunities and clinical experience. That skillset has served her well in stints in a pediatric clinic (in Santa Monica, Calif., for her clinical fellowship), high schools (during an eight-year stay with the Madison School District), in-home private therapy (with Brooklyn Letters, a company run by fellow UW-Madison graduate Craig Sellinger (BS’01, MS’03, Communicative Disorders) in Brooklyn, N.Y.) and in her current dual role.

As a clinical assistant professor, Stuntebeck supervises graduate students in their clinical practicums, meeting with them individually to develop their skills and scheduling and overseeing their sessions with clients. She sees it as a way of paying forward some of the lessons she learned in the program.

“I really learned so much from my supervisors in terms of how to truly individualize assessment and therapy plans for my clients,” she says. “Having been out to California and New York, I realize that not all programs have that in terms of being able to look at a child and their strengths and their needs and being able to truly tailor and individualize a program for them.”

In her private practice, Stuntebeck provides in-home therapy for kids, adolescents and young adults ranging from ages three to 21 with a wide variety of diagnoses: from those with articulation, language or fluency problems to those who are non-verbal. Stuntebeck also enjoys incorporating activities aimed at aiding literacy development into her sessions.

It provides her with the sort of varied professional challenge that she fell in love with during her first year on campus.

“That’s the part that’s so exciting about the field: Every day is truly different,” she says.