UM Speech Pathology School Prepares Students for Rewarding Careers

By Kyle Spurr, UM News Service

A photo of SLHO students
Shannon Welby leads the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association student group. (UM Photo by Ryan Brennecke)

MISSOULA – Shannon Welby knew she wanted to find a career that helps people, and she found the perfect start at the University of Montana’s School of Speech, Language, Hearing and Occupational Sciences

Welby, from Upland, California, remembers watching a theater production in high school that was adapted for deaf people. The production inspired her to pursue other ways to help those with hearing and speech disabilities. She researched colleges with speech language pathology programs and found UM’s school, which is the only one in Montana. 

“It’s been the biggest blessing I’ve had in my life that I was able to come here,” said Welby, a senior who graduates this May. 

A highlight of her time here has been with UM’s National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NSSLHA) student group. Welby joined as a freshman and is now the group’s president. 

The group is dedicated to volunteer and advocacy work on campus and across Montana. Members visit the state capital to meet with lawmakers, attend state and national conferences, and fundraise for organizations such as Operation Smile, which supports children with cleft palates.

Interest in the group has increased since Welby joined four years ago. The group doubled from about 20 students to more than 40. 

“This year is the best we’ve ever had,” she said. “It’s really cool to see it flourishing.”

Claire Smith, a senior from Wasilla, Alaska and vice president of the student group, said she and Welby have prioritized building community within the school. They host dinners, share hot cocoa and make events feel welcoming. 

“I think it is common for SLPs (speech language pathologists) to be more outgoing and want to communicate with people,” Smith said. “For a lot of us it comes naturally. We are all welcoming and kind people.” 

Smith appreciated that kindness when she arrived on campus as a freshman not knowing a single person. Quickly she met classmates and developed friendships throughout her time at UM. 

“I have really cherished getting close with my professors and the students,” Smith said. “That’s what I’ve really loved about the program is how tight knit it all is.” 

Smith and Welby will earn their undergraduate degrees this year in communicative sciences and disorders, and both applied to UM’s speech language pathology master’s program. 

The master’s program is one of the most successful at UM, boasting a 100% pass rate for all students who take the Praxis exam to become a certified speech language pathologist. In addition, 100% of students find jobs after graduation. 

After completing her master’s degree, Smith plans to work with children who struggle with articulation. Smith grew up in a family of teachers and always wanted to work with children. 

“It’s in my blood to love working with kids,” she said. “But as I got older, I realized I didn’t want to be a teacher. I shadowed a couple SLPs in high school and absolutely loved it. My feelings haven’t changed since I’ve been in college.” 

For Welby, she also is interested in working with children. But she developed another interest in helping those recovering from strokes. She volunteered with the Big Sky Aphasia Program and was introduced to people who had strokes and had their language impaired. Working with stroke survivors and children is different but equally rewarding, she said. 

“Now I’m a little torn,” Welby said. “I hope grad school will help me narrow that down.” 

No matter where their careers take them, both Welby and Smith credit the opportunities they had in UM’s speech language pathology school. They worked hands-on in labs, volunteered with local agencies and were mentored by professors. The experience has prepared them for their future careers.

“You can tell the professors really care and there are a lot of opportunities,” Welby said. “That’s been the best thing about the program for me.” 


Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,