|Q&A with Ruth Renee Hannibal, Associate Professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Valdosta State University|
|Ruth Renee Hannibal is an associate professor at Valdosta State University in Valdosta, Georgia. As a licensed SLP in the State of Georgia, she teaches both undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Renee received her BA and MA, both in Speech-Language Pathology, from South Carolina State University and her PhD from Michigan State University. She has earned a Certificate of Clinical Competence (CCC) from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Q: What motivated you to enter this profession?
A: The one thing that motivated me to study the profession of speech-language pathology was because of a situation in elementary school that affected me—one of my classmates stuttered. It was a struggle for him any time he was required to read, discuss his summer vacation, or during any speaking event. It broke my heart that he struggled and that speech therapy services were not available at my school. I began to read on the topic and would write my term papers on speech therapy. When I entered college, I declared my major as Speech Pathology and Audiology and the rest is history.
Q: What is your role at Valdosta State University? What is the school's main focus?
A: My main role is to teach both undergraduate and graduate classes and occasionally supervise students in their internship and externship placements. The courses that I teach are Introduction to Neurology for Communication Disorders, Cultural and Dialectical Issues in Communication Disorders, Aphasia and Other Neurogenic Disorders, and Dysphagia and Motor Speech Disorders.
We have an undergraduate program and our master's program is accredited by the Council on Academic Accreditation (CAA) of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Our clinic provides services to children and adults with a wide variety of communication disorders.
Valdosta State University is a Regional University of the University System of Georgia. The university's mission is to prepare students to meet the challenges and opportunities from a global standpoint through excellence in teaching and learning and to provide outreach to the community and region through service outreach.
Q: When and how did you start at VSU?
A: Before becoming a faculty member at VSU in August of 2000, I worked in a hospital in Lansing, Michigan, as a speech-language pathologist and as a Supervisor of Rehabilitation Services. When downsizing started to occur at our hospital, my position was eliminated. I continued to work PRN for different rehab companies and provided services to residents in skilled nursing facilities.
I learned of an opening at VSU from friends of mine who worked in different departments at the university. I applied, interviewed, and here I am today in a position that I love.
Q: What are your responsibilities at VSU?
A: My major responsibility is to teach my classes each semester. I do, however, advise both undergraduate and graduate students. We have a very active local National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NSSLHA) chapter, and I am one of the co-advisors.
As with any university setting, I am on various committees throughout the university. Some semesters, I also supervise graduate student clinicians who are practicing at their internship and externship sites.
Q: What do you like most about teaching future therapists?
A: The most enjoyable thing I like about teaching future therapists is knowing that I am helping to shape, train, and teach students to be the best speech-language pathologist that they can be.
I am passionate about my field and love to see on some of my students' faces how excited they get when I lecture and share with them some stories from my experience. I especially get a joy out of them sharing their experiences with me that they have had at their medical externships. The most joy, however, is seeing the students walk across the stage and graduate.
Q: Do you feel that the role of speech therapists has changed over recent years?
A: Yes, I think the role of speech-language pathologists has changed over the years. There are a number of areas that are still growing in our profession compared to when I first started. Dysphagia was not a subject that was taught while I was a student. Much of what I have learned came from lots of continuing education classes and on the job experience. It is one area that continues to expand with evidence-based practice.
Speech therapy in the public school is different now compared to when I first began. In some districts, pull-out is a thing of the past while in others, all therapy is being performed in the classrooms. Those are the two main differences that stand out for me.
Q: What do you feel is of the greatest concern to SLPs in a public school setting and SLPs, in general?
A: I feel that the role of the speech therapist in public schools continues to be evolving. Today's school SLPs have a lot more paperwork to complete and have less time to actually spend doing therapy.
The therapy cap is severely affecting the services that can be provided to patients in medical settings, especially when physical therapy and speech therapy share the funds. Facilities that have a lot of patients with Part B will find it harder to provide both ST and PT services.
I think the profession continues to address the shortage of PhD faculty. It is difficult to find PhD candidates to replace the ones who have retired and those who are retiring.
Q: Teaching can be very rewarding. What do you think is the most rewarding aspect?
A: One of the most rewarding parts of my job is when students e-mail me to share their experiences in their medical externships. They are able to relate what they see in their patients to something that was discussed in class.
Additionally, when students graduate, they also e-mail me and offer kind words that although they felt that I was a very "hard professor," required, and expected a lot out of them, they appreciated all of my efforts.
Q: As a professor, what is the most important thing you've learned over the course of your career?
A: The most important thing that I have learned over the course of my career is to go the extra mile for patients that I serve, their families, and for the students that I teach. I continue to practice clinically, which enhances and adds to my teaching. One of my mantras is that, "I practice what I teach," so adding clinical experience to teaching helps train students how to think outside the box when trying to solve clinical cases.
Additionally, to always read the current research, continue with CEUs, and "think outside the box." Having said that, I feel that I am in a better position to teach my students what they need to learn, not only just from an academic viewpoint but also from a clinical aspect.
Further, I have also learned that it is important to collaborate with other SLPs and other professionals who provide services daily in medical facilities.
Q: How has working in education allowed you to grow professionally?
A: I would have to answer this question not only from an educational setting, but also from a medical setting. I have fulfilled many professional goals since I started working in this field. Some of those goals include the following: I have worked at three universities with wonderful programs teaching and supervising students; I am an active member of the Speech-Language Pathology Advisory Council of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association; I was a staff SLP in at a major hospital in Lansing, Michigan, and supervisor of rehabilitation services at the same hospital; Additionally, I fulfilled my goal of working as a travel therapist in 2007; Further, my experience working as a speech therapist in a therapy summer camp was also rewarding.
My experiences also included public school therapy and practicing speech therapy in skilled nursing facilities and home healthcare. Overall, I feel that all of these experiences have helped me to become a well-rounded clinician as well as an academician.