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Megan McKenna

Alumni Spotlight—Megan McKenna

Alumni of the College of Applied Health Sciences have myriad career options thanks to the tremendous diversity of programs. We periodically will put the spotlight on an alum to find out what they're doing now, what experiences they had and what AHS means to them. This week, we talk to Megan McKenna, who got her B.S. in Speech & Hearing Science in 2011 and her clinical M.A. in Speech & Hearing Science in 2013. Currently, McKenna is a pediatric speech-language pathologist and certified autism specialist at two suburban hospitals within Northwestern Medicine.

Q: Why did you pick AHS?

A: After graduating from high school, I started my undergraduate studies at a small liberal arts college and quickly found that it wasn't the right fit for me. Knowing that I wanted to become a speech-language pathologist, I quickly discovered that the University of Illinois had a well-respected Speech & Hearing Science department. I was fortunate enough to be accepted and start at Illinois for the second semester of my freshman year. I was worried about the change from such a small college to a large university, but I found that AHS was the perfect balance. My classes within AHS were smaller than my general education courses, so I felt I had a better opportunity to really retain coursework and get to know my professors and classmates. I also ended up becoming very interested in research, and AHS allowed me to participate in research as an undergraduate and graduate student. That is definitely not an option at many other universities!

Q. Which professors had the most impact on you?

A: Dr. Pamela Hadley was incredibly impactful during my time in AHS and beyond. It was in her undergraduate class on child language that I became fascinated by the language development process in young children, and I was drawn to her passion on the topic. I ended up completing my James Scholar Honors project, writing a master's thesis, and working as a research assistant all under her guidance! Since my graduation, we have co-authored a paper together in one of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association's journals. I also enjoyed courses with Dr. Cynthia Johnson and Dr. Raksha Anand Mudar.

Q: What course did you most enjoy?

A: I really enjoyed most of my courses within the SHS department but also the courses I took from other departments in AHS for my interdisciplinary minor. My favorite courses focused on child language, language disorders, and language and the brain. I also loved completing independent study coursework as part of my James Scholar project because I was able to build experiences specific to my interests.

Q: Did you enter AHS knowing your career path, or did AHS help you decide?

A: When I started college, I already knew I wanted to study to become a speech-language pathologist, but I had a particular interest in working with the adult population. I even completed an interdisciplinary minor in Aging Studies within AHS! However, after my interest in child language and development was peeked in course and experience working in the Applied Psycholinguistics Laboratory within SHS, I became convinced that working with the pediatric population was actually a better fit for me. My experiences within AHS helped me to identify my true passion and guide me to the career I have now.

Q: Did your AHS experience lead to your current job?

A: My experiences in AHS and the department of SHS really helped me to identify my passion for working with the pediatric population. I had the opportunity to begin clinical hours in speech therapy as a senior and continued into graduate school. I was able to be placed in a wide range of clinical assignments—far more than other SLPs I know that attended other schools. I felt really confident in my clinical skills when I started my first job as an SLP in the Illinois public schools. After 4 years working in schools, I transitioned to the outpatient clinic setting. I know that all of my clinical experiences within AHS gave me the background I needed to be successful across these different settings, and my coursework and research experiences made me comfortable applying evidence-based practice and pursuing new responsibilities, training, and certifications.

Q: What is your current job?

A: I am a pediatric speech-language pathologist and certified autism specialist at two suburban hospitals within Northwestern Medicine. I specialize in providing speech therapy to pediatric patients at-risk or diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, but I see pediatric patients 14 months of age to 18 years of age with a wide range of diagnoses and needs. I also serve on an interdisciplinary early intervention medical diagnostic team and complete autism diagnostic assessments to support physicians' clinical decisions. I am fortunate to be able to work closely with parents and my colleagues in other disciplines.

Q: When did you graduate and with what degree?

A: I graduated with a B.S. in Speech & Hearing Science in 2011 and with a clinical M.A. in Speech & Hearing Science in 2013.

Q: What was your favorite on-campus experience?

A: Where to begin?! I worked for campus housing at the front desk and as an RA, and I loved building relationships with my co-workers and the residents on the floors. So many fun times! I was also part of Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and had the opportunity to volunteer on campus as well as the communities surrounding Urbana-Champaign. The University of Illinois is a busy and exciting campus—there are so many options as far as joining groups/clubs, attending events, and going out with friends! There is always something to do or somewhere to go.

Q: What would you say to recommend AHS to a prospective student?

A: AHS is a smaller college on campus, so you get to know your classmates and faculty more personally. AHS allows you to experience a more tight-knit, community feel within the large university setting that Illinois is. It's the best of both worlds!

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