MISSOULA – Megan Andersen didn’t talk until she 5 years old. Her family, team of doctors and host of other professionals don’t quite know why – maybe something about low muscle tone, dexterity and the development of fine and gross motor skills, as she tells it.
“I have memories of not talking,” Andersen said. “I remember it clearly – and I remember being really frustrated because I would constantly be thinking all the time. I remember the anger.”
Andersen, now a University of Montana third-year student, said it wasn’t until her little brother started talking that Andersen decided she was done being non-verbal.
“Once he started talking, I was like ‘no way is my little brother going to talk before I do,’” she said. “So, I started speaking. I guess it took getting a brother to get me to talk.”
That’s when she parlayed a good sense of sibling rivalry and years of being silent into a hard-nosed focus that has lifted her academically, professionally and personally.
Andersen, from Kalispell, was an academic star at Glacier High School. Her parents, both teachers, encouraged her to seek opportunities and challenge herself. That included a rigorous outdoors education with plenty of time outside exploring northwest Montana, skiing at Whitefish and hiking all over Glacier National Park.
She took advantage of dual-enrollment classes offered through Flathead Valley Community College and enrolled in UM as a second-year student with nearly 40 college credits already completed. When she arrived on campus, there was no question what she wanted to study.
“Speech pathology,” Andersen said. “I came here specially for this program. I’m interested in pediatric speech therapy and all of the modes of therapy available to children to help them become their best self.”
Andersen is a communicative sciences and disorders major with plans to attend graduate school for clinical training in speech development. UM’s CSD major provides students the privilege to work with individuals with developmental disorders, as well as disorders across the lifespan related to speech, language and hearing.
Graduates often seek graduate degrees in speech-language pathology and audiology in addition to medical and educational fields.
“What I like about it is that the curriculum is all about the basis for any kind of communication – speech, hearing, physical, social and behavioral – it’s all connected,” she said.
UM’s School of Speech, Language, Hearing, & Occupational Sciences, housed in the College of Health, offers several certificate programs, post-baccalaureate pathways, an accredited master’s program in speech-language pathology for clinicians and a doctoral program for researchers. In coming years, the school will offer a doctoral degree in occupational therapy. The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates the employment of speech-language pathologists is projected to grow 29% in the next 10 years, with about 15,200 openings projected each year over the next decade.
Amy Glaspey, a professor of speech and hearing sciences, teaches an undergraduate class on phonetics, one of Andersen’s favorite classes thus far. Glaspey remembers Andersen having a “constant curiosity and a consistent interest and presence.”
Glaspey’s class examines phonological development using a sound symbol system that provides a way to assess the way a person speaks, their sound production and where they might have difficulty when it comes to pronunciation.
Glaspey said it’s not uncommon for students who have had a personal connection or experience with communication difficulty, like Andersen, to later gravitate toward the field as adults. She said the CSD major is broad by design because it provides so many avenues into different fields and areas of interest.
“The undergraduate major in communicative sciences and disorders is a springboard for a lot of amazing fields,” Glaspey said. “Many students choose to go on to specialized graduate work, and many seek opportunities in education, in health, in psychology, or as speech-language pathology or audiology assistants. The scope of work and opportunity is extensive.”
What sets UM apart, Glaspey said, is the level of faculty expertise, the small class size and the opportunity for undergraduates to seek and receive research experience. CSD seniors can complete a research-based capstone, and they have the opportunity to apply for a mentored experience by a faculty member within their respective area of research.
At UM, Andersen finds other ways to connect the dots when it comes to the varied ways people communicate and find confidence. An avid skier, Andersen volunteers with DREAM Adaptive Recreation program, based in Whitefish. The program provides year-round adaptive and inclusive recreational opportunities. Andersen volunteers through the winter, helping children and young adults learn to use their bodies in an adaptive, inclusive environment to recreate safely.
“There’s an opportunity in those spaces to help people who struggle to communicate, to find confidence,” she said. “I find a lot of similarities in my communication classes when I get to work with individuals with disabilities outside. And I really like it, because it’s like watching someone overcome a perceived boundary.”
In addition to open spaces and mountains, faith also has been a founding element in Andersen’s journey. She’s active with UM’s Young Life, an organization of Christian students who share ideas on spirituality and spend time together.
“There’s a really cool community of students in Young Life,” she said. “I didn’t expect to find that here, necessarily, but I’ve found a really great group of friends, and UM kind of feels like a second home now.”
As far as what the future might hold, Andersen said she’s focusing on the moment.
“I know I want to work with children and helping kids like me who struggled,” she said. “Kids who had a unique start when it comes to language, but who also are smart and hardworking. It’s a super interesting field with a huge impact on lives.”
Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM Strategic Communications director, 406-243-5659, email@example.com