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Marcela Dow is a cognitive science major specializing in
pre-professional speech-language pathology, who expects to graduate in May 2022. Dow, who is from
Philadelphia, also is majoring in Spanish studies.
Editor’s note: Marcela Dow is a senior cognitive science major specializing in pre-professional speech-language pathology. This Q&A is one of a series of articles exploring the research that
UD students have been pursuing. Though COVID-19
continues to shape some plans, students still can participate in
hundreds of remarkable projects, in-person and remotely. To learn more, visit the Undergraduate Research Program website.
Q: What are you studying, where and with whom?
Dow: I am engaging in an independent research project as a
part of the McNair Scholars Program, under the mentorship of Nina
Straitman, a speech-language pathology clinician and instructor of
linguistics and cognitive science, and Irene Vogel, a professor of
linguistics and cognitive science. My research focuses on identifying
the patterns of behavior that contribute to a culturally responsive
practice in speech-language pathology for the Black and Latinx pediatric
population. Specifically, I’m focusing on how speech-language
pathologists define culturally responsive care and success in it, what
factors help or hinder this success, and what tactics individuals use in
their own practice to make it culturally responsive. The goal is to
uncover patterns and themes that are actively used in assessment and
intervention and to contribute to the growing conversation on methods of
culturally responsive care at the individual level. I also hope to help
identify the role and responsibility of institutions in helping
therapists to provide the best care possible to diverse populations.
Move this whole section up, swapping places with the section above it.
Q: How would you explain your work to a fifth grader or someone’s grandparent?
Dow: My study focuses on speech therapists and how well they
can help the children they give speech therapy to. When helping children
in speech therapy, it's important to think about how culture and where
someone grew up might affect the way they speak. For example, some
children might have an accent or use a different style of talking from
the therapist, such as using different words or saying things in a
different order. Just because someone speaks differently doesn’t mean
it's wrong, and speech therapists need to be able to tell when it's just
different and when children actually need help with their speech. I
wanted to know how speech therapists make sure they know it’s not just a
different way of talking.
Q: What draws you to research?
Dow: My introduction to research came from my mother, who has
been doing research on urban education and Latinx students for as long
as I can remember. Her passion for discovering the undiscovered and
challenging the standards of teaching made me passionate about being a
driving force of change in whatever field I choose to pursue. Research
is a great way to push a field forward, and I wanted to be a part of
that advancement as soon as I could.
Q: What motivated you to study this topic?
Dow: In my undergraduate program, I quickly noticed the lack
of diversity within my major. As a Black and Latina woman, it is notable
how few people of color there are in the classroom. The field of speech
pathology itself is 92% white and 96% female, according to The American
Speech–Language–Hearing Association. The population that speech
pathologists serve, however, is much more diverse. I took my first class
on culturally responsive practice earlier this year and noticed it was
one of the smallest courses I had taken related to my major. This
important knowledge was getting passed up by a lot of students who could
have benefitted from it.
My goal became to figure out how therapists dealt with cultural
differences in the “real world” after higher education. I figured many
would be like the people in my major, having not taken any specific
course related to the topic. I could look in the textbook and at the
articles to see what scholars said therapists should be doing to be
culturally responsive, but I want to know what therapists are actually
doing, so I can eventually deduce what we, as a field, can do better to
serve culturally and linguistically diverse populations.
Q: What have you found most surprising about this work so far?
Dow: Initially, I thought it would be difficult to find people
who would be willing to speak with an undergraduate student they had
never met for 30 minutes, but many of the participants were excited to
speak with me, ask me questions about the research and tell me about
their personal experiences. In terms of the findings in my study, one of
the things that surprised me is that many therapists shared how 2020
affected their ability to provide culturally appropriate care to their
clients. Some spoke about how the Black Lives Matter protests in the
wake of the death of George Floyd brought unprecedented awareness to the
way that race and culture interacts with different institutions — and
speech pathology was no exception. Many participants talked about how
the events of 2020 created conversations about cultural differences and
their impact on care, which had not happened before.
Q: What are the possible real-world applications for your study?
Dow: Speech-language pathologists serve real children and
serving those children in the best way possible is at the heart of this
research. Participants in this study told stories of success and failure
in therapy for diverse populations. This is important, as it gives
other therapists the opportunity to read and learn from the study and
potentially better their practice. This study shows the need for
comprehensive graduate school education development for culturally
responsive care, new methods for developing institutionally based
change, and more culturally representative standardized testing. All
these things are further research opportunities.
Q: How does this experience align with your career goals?
Dow: My future career goal is to help ensure that every child
receives appropriate speech and language services that consider every
aspect of their personhood, especially their culture. Communication and
language are such intimate, personal aspects of a person's being and the
needs of the individual receiving services must be considered at every
level of care. By discovering what therapists are currently doing,
struggling with and what supports they need to achieve care that
considers cultural differences completely, I am better equipped to help
ameliorate the places where the field falls short. I see this project as
a pilot study, and I hope to explore some of the real-world
applications discussed earlier at some point in the future. In the
near-term, my goal is to present and publish my findings throughout the
Q: What do you do when you are not doing research?
Dow: Some of my favorite things to do include camping, hiking,
kayaking and generally all things outdoors. I love crocheting, baking,
reading and traveling, as well as spending time with my family and
friends, just hanging out, watching movies and eating.
Article by Karen B. Roberts; illustrations by Jeffrey C. Chase
Published Sept. 30, 2021