The Department of Communicative Disorders’ four-year Audiology Doctorate (Au.D.) program at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point has been a goal and a passion for both Erin O’Leary and Rebecca Lewis, two UWSP students currently enrolled in the graduate program.
The Au.D. program is collaborative between UWSP and UW-Madison. Through distance learning, clinical work, and classes at UWSP, students prepare for work in audiology, the study of hearing and its related disorders.
O’Leary and Lewis both graduated from UWSP in May of 2011 with undergraduate degrees in Communicative Disorders, along with a Psychology minor and Spanish degree respectively, and chose to continue their education in the Au.D. program because of personal experiences with hearing loss in people close to them.
“Since I was ten, I wanted to do audiology,” said O’Leary, whose brother suffered from severe hearing loss. “I wanted to do something where I could help people.”
Lewis had a friend who was deaf and learned sign language in fourth grade in order to communicate with her, inspiring her to work within the audiology field.
“Since I was about eleven years old, it’s been set in stone as to what I would be doing,” Lewis said.
Job availability is another reason why O’Leary and Lewis chose the Au.D. program at UWSP.
“The baby boomers are getting older and experiencing hearing loss,” O’Leary said. “It’s called presbycusis, or general hearing loss, and along with that our generation is experiencing a lot of noise-induced hearing loss from iPods and other devices being too loud.”
Dr. Henning, Assistant Professor of Communicative Disorders and instructor within the Au.D. program, said that because of the high demand for audiologists six prospective students are now sought each year for the program instead of four or five.
Students in the Au.D. program work with instructors and fellow classmates at the UWSP clinic assisting students, faculty and other members of the community with hearing-related issues.
“I really like the hands-on work and all of the experience within the clinic,” Lewis said. “Having that really helps learn the material.”
O’Leary and Lewis both said that the experience of graduate school is much different than in their undergraduate degree, especially when coupled with the challenges of distance learning, but that the faculty in the program and life in the city of Stevens Point make up for it.
“I love it here,” O’Leary said. “This town, the campus, it’s so close and homey, so when I do the uncomfortable things like providing services to a patient for the first time, it makes me feel comfortable.”
Lewis hopes to stay in a small community after graduating and working in a hospital or clinic with Hispanic children.
“I just really like the language and culture,” Lewis said.
O’Leary would like to work with an ear, nose, and throat doctor after graduating, working side-by-side to help people with balance issues.
“It’s interesting how audiologists cure balance problems,” O’Leary said. “My great-grandmother had balance problems and it interested me because the science behind everything is so crazy.”
Since O’Leary and Lewis both had personal experience with hearing issues in those close to them, UWSP’s collaborative Au.D. program was a perfect fit, giving two passionate students the opportunity to help those in their community.