Stockton Student Presents Research to National Audience
Galloway, N.J. — Spending three semesters doing research was the last thing Alyssa Erin De Guzman had in mind when she enrolled at Stockton University to get her master’s degree in 2020.
“When I was an undergrad, I hated research,” said the 24-year-old who graduated in 2022 with a Master of Science in Communication Disorders. “I told myself that I would never want to do research, but once I came to Stockton that changed.”
That newfound love of research has propelled her to a national platform as the Bergenfield, New Jersey, native recently became only the second Stockton student to win an award by the Alpha Eta Society, the national honor society for allied health professionals. De Guzman was honored for her project titled “Experiences of Racially/Ethnically Diverse Undergraduate Students Pursuing Speech-Language Pathology.”
“What this award means to Stockton is that we are producing excellent clinician researchers who will take the learning of research into their best clinical practice and perhaps return to offer their clinical expertise to students at Stockton and impact our society at large,” said Mary Lou Galantino, distinguished professor of Physical Therapy and the president of Stockton’s Alpha Eta chapter.
The idea for De Guzman’s research came after she noticed something glaring while getting her bachelor’s degree at another university.
“I would go to my classes in my major and I would see a lot of white girls,” the Asian-American student said. “I realized there’s a lack of diversity in the speech pathology field.”
Less than 10% of speech-language pathologists are Black, Indigenous or a person of color, according to 2020 data by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. De Guzman talked to other minority students in her major and realized they had similar experiences — academic struggles and a lack of belonging and opportunity when compared to white peers.
“I wanted to see if there was a relationship between race and ethnicity and success in the speech pathology field at the undergraduate level,” she said.
De Guzman said some of those concerns were unfounded once she started her graduate degree at Stockton.
“Once I was in the program, I felt very valued and very supported,” she said. “I never felt different, and when I spoke about these issues, I felt very heard. (The faculty) also acknowledged that there’s a lack of diversity in the speech pathology field.”
Now that I have a topic I’m very passionate about, I know it can make a difference with students of color and also make a difference in speech pathology programs. It’s been very worthwhile and very fulfilling for me."
“Students enter our program with the goal of becoming clinicians. Research is not a primary reason why they are here,” Pawlowska said. “But I tell them, ‘Here’s an opportunity for you to give it a try and see for yourself. Maybe when you go through the experience you will discover that this is something you enjoy doing.’”
Pawlowska worked with De Guzman to develop a 32-question survey that was eventually disseminated to 92 graduate speech-language pathology (SLP) programs and eight multicultural SLP organizations across the country. Over a two-month period, 185 graduate SLP students responded from 43 states.
“The fact that she had quite a representation of our country speaks volumes for the national impact of her study,” Galantino said. “I don’t think our students realize that many doors open when you have this type of national recognition.”
The study confirmed many of De Guzman’s initial feelings during her undergraduate work, including:
- Students of color expressed a greater need for assistance with study skills
- They had less access to financial assistance information
- They had a lower sense of belonging in SLP classes and connection with other SLP students
- And both students or color and nonstudents of color saw faculty and students as less ethnically and racially diverse than staff
De Guzman presented her research at Stockton’s graduate student research symposium in the spring and at the New Jersey Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention. On Nov. 18, she will present her study in person at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association Convention in New Orleans, which is one of the largest professional development events for speech-language pathologists with about 15,000 attendees.
The entire project took three semesters, De Guzman said, and along the way she discovered a new love for research.
“It’s really fun. Now that I have a topic I’m very passionate about, I know it can make a difference with students of color and also make a difference in speech pathology programs,” she said. “It’s been very worthwhile and very fulfilling for me.”
Currently, De Guzman is doing her clinical fellowship at the South Bergen Jointure Commission, a special education school district in Bergen County, New Jersey. She wants to work with Pawlowska to write a paper about the project and get it published in a research journal. Her eventual goal is to go back to school for her Ph.D., pursue research further and eventually become a professor.
“I really admire how professors can really impact their students,” De Guzman said. “I feel like that’s something that I want to do in the future. I want to work with students and be part of that community again.”
— Story by Mark Melhorn, photos provided by Alyssa Erin De Guzman
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