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Two Years Later, Five Times Bigger: Speech@Emerson Immersions Return to Boston

Photos and video by Ben Warren, unless noted otherwise.

The Spring 2022 Immersion II cohort, finally all together for the first (and last) time before graduation.

When the program commonly known as Speech@Emerson launched in 2018, it was designed as the online alternative to the College’s renowned on-campus  Master of Science in Communication Disorders —online, that is, except for the two in-person, in-Boston “immersions” required for all S@E students.

As fate and COVID would have it, only a few of the early Speech@Emerson immersions would be in-person – until last month, when more than 200 students from four time zones gathered at the Westin for four days of learning, connecting, and enjoying an unmistakable sense of community.

Both of the Immersion experiences (known as I and II) involve credits required for the degree, thus requiring attendance, engagement, and coursework on a deadline.  But that’s hardly a problem, says Kate Roberts, who spearheads immersions as an associate director in Graduate and Professional Studies. “After months, and sometimes years, of contact through Zoom, email, and course discussion threads, the students, professors, and facilitators are all more than eager to be present with and learning from each other,” Roberts said.

In Immersion I, the aspiring speech language pathologists (SLPs) prepare for their first clinical placements by studying Emerson’s collection of brain specimens (yes, we have those), practicing hearing screenings and preschool speech and language screenings, or assessing language skills through whatever reading materials might be available.  

In Immersion II, students complete the seminar, Person-Centered Care: Perspectives Across the Lifespan, which integrates much of their previous coursework and clinical experiences to explore the philosophy of care and how they are called to highlight the goals of the client no matter where on the lifespan they might fall.  Other sessions help them explore the next steps in the field, including building confidence as Clinical Fellows.

This year’s Immersion II was the first-ever in person, which Roberts described as “a challenge, but in all the best ways. “

“Student engagement was palpable!” Roberts said. “Turning in assignments and holding each other accountable just didn’t happen when they were siloed on their couch for three days. This time, graduating students all huddled to start outlining their reflection papers to make sure they got a good first draft done right after class, bringing together a lot of individuals who didn’t regularly interact during the semester-long courses.”

Many of the Speech@Emerson facilitators, who teach courses from wherever they may be across the country, were equally excited for an in-person Immersion.

“A number of them came to Boston to work the event not for the compensation, but for the opportunity to truly connect with colleagues and friends and meet the students!” Roberts said. As just one of many positive results, she added, “a student-facilitator pair realized they live in the same small county in Indiana and now will network and connect with one another back home.”

Immersion 2022 culminated with another first: the in-person hooding of this term’s 66 Speech@Emerson graduates, who will now seek licensure and certification as speech language pathologists, equipped with the skills and understanding they gained in the program.

In addition to the hard work of the S@E students, faculty, and staff, Roberts lauds the efforts of many colleagues across campus—from Business and Media Services to Career Development, the COVID response team, and the Visitors Center, among others—who made the event possible.

“This was a truly Emersonian effort, requiring a lot of work and collaboration to do something of this scale that hadn’t been done before, and all in the interest of our students’ experience. We are so proud of and grateful for everyone who contributed to this Speech@Emerson Immersion and made it a shining success.”

SIDENOTE: Due Praise for S@E’s Dedicated Leader

Although the Speech@Emerson “magic” largely takes place between its students, faculty, and the people they care for, an unbelievable amount of work has gone into the program’s development and growth. It’s the kind of effort that involves many, but relies on the talent, dedication and vision of a few, and in this case, one in particular.

Phedra Hamilton-Reyna
Phedra Hamilton-Reyna, S@E Program Administrator

When S@E was launched in 2018, the College tapped Phedra Hamilton-Reyna for the role of program administrator—in other words, the person who brings it all together and makes it happen, including a 1,000 percent growth in student enrollment and the establishment of high-functioning staff and operations.  In the days following the recent immersion, Hamilton-Reyna’s colleagues from across Emerson’s Division of Academic Affairs unanimously recognized her with the division’s STARs Award for the Extra Mile.

Hamilton-Reyna, true to form, redirected credit to her team.

“We went from zero students four years ago and just about peaked at 1,100 last term,” she said. “Our staff team went from three members to about 14 over the pandemic, and most have been here a year-and-a-half or or less, with a majority work remotely. Together we created structure, support, policy, process, partnerships and systems—you name it, we did it! Our last on-campus immersion was December 2019 with about 50 students, before we quickly transitioned to virtual. This term we returned with about 250 attendees. Overall, my colleague and team members are the ones that shine bright, and together we are a star!”

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