Nydia Bou was attracted to Emerson’s Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) Department for the rare opportunity it offered.
As faculty coordinator for Graduate Admissions and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence since 2020, the position has allowed Bou to combine her love for teaching and higher education administration.
This fall, the department welcomed Bou as its new chair.
“[Emerson’s program] is the perfect combination of [speech-language pathology] within the whole world of communications,” Bou said. CSD is housed within the School of Communication, recognizing that the foundation for both public communication, such as Journalism, and speech-language pathology (SLP) are related.
Before coming to Emerson in August 2020, Bou spent more than two decades in higher education in Puerto Rico. Bou has held roles in teaching and research, as well as administrative duties, including program development and assessment, academic accreditation, and grant writing. But she’s happiest when she gets to combine both.
Bou moved through administrator roles, from clinical coordinator and program director, to leadership roles, including dean and vice chancellor at Universidad Ana G Mendez Gurabo Campus (formerly Universidad del Turabo).
She majored in public communication at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedraw Campus, for her undergraduate degree. Transitioning from public communication to (SLP) was easy for Bou.
“How do I continue doing what I love, which is communications, but how do I stay connected with people?” Bou asked. SLP was a natural next step.
Bou has many goals for her time as chair. She’s continuing the department’s work in assessing the Speech@Emerson program.
“I would like to assess classroom learning and program operations to understand how effective we are as a program in preparing highly qualified entry-level professionals that will become ASHA-certified SLPs,” Bou said.
Bou also wants the program to be a real option for a diverse pool of students who have many different needs, interests, and backgrounds, by providing academic and financial support systems, as well as mentorships.
One of CSD’s goals is to increase the diversity of the profession, said Bou. In 2020, Just 8 percent of American Speech-Language-Hearing Association members and affiliates identified as people of color.
Bou is proud of the growing diversity among CSD faculty, including recent hire and Distinguished Scholar-in-Residence Valerie Johnson, whose expertise lies in multicultural and social justice issues in speech, language, and hearing sciences. And where there’s diverse faculty, Bou hopes there will be diverse students.
“Students will come where they see themselves,” Bou said. “If they don’t see themselves, they will feel like they won’t fit within the Emerson community and feel like outsiders.”
In 2020, the CSD department posted a racial equity statement and a plan for enacting change. The same year CSD students created a resource guide to make courses and practice more culturally inclusive.
Bou believes her placement as chair is evidence of the college’s commitment to taking action.
“I am that 8 percent,” Bou said. “I’m here. We are taking action, and this is an action that you can see—this is a face. I’m extremely proud of being here and representing something other than white.”
Bou is adamant that diversifying the profession starts at the university level — and earlier.
Many high school students don’t know that SLP exists as a profession, or that it’s an option for them. In Puerto Rico, Bou helped design an initiative to educate middle and high school students from Caguas and Gurabo public schools about speech language pathology. Sponsored by a grant called Scholarship for Disadvantaged Students from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the iShadow program provided support to establish a pipeline for students coming into the profession. It allowed a group of 10 students each summer to visit the Universidad Ana G Mendez Gurabo Campus and learn one-on-one from an SLP-in-training.
Several of the students who participated in the program between 2012 to 2016 have since received master’s degrees and now work as SLPs, a couple have even completed doctorate degrees.
Bou will continue recruitment and retention efforts at Emerson and knows that students will face a completely different field than the one she entered 30 years ago.
“Having a diverse group of faculty and staff will allow us to prepare a diverse group of students that are prepared for the world. It’s not only extremely important, it’s what we need to do,” Bou said.