Alumni Spotlight: Alexandra Michonski, Communication Sciences and Disorders M.Ed.
As a speech-language pathologist, Alex Michonski treats a wide range of disorders and works with patients of all ages. The academic preparation and hands-on clinical training she received at UVA gave her the skills and confidence she uses every day to make a difference in her community.
Q: What first sparked your interest in speech-language pathology?
I started my undergraduate studies majoring in fashion design at a liberal arts school in Northern Virginia, and I was introduced to child development through my liberal arts coursework. It was in these courses I learned about language development and the role of speech therapy. I always wanted to work around kids and do work that could make a real difference in the community, so speech-language pathology appealed to me instantly. After researching the field and education requirements further I discovered that many schools offer programs for students with bachelor's degrees in other fields. That gave me the confidence to switch my career path to speech-language pathology.
Q: Why did you choose to enroll in the master’s program at UVA?
When selecting which school to enroll in for my master’s program, the biggest factors were timeline, location, and clinical experience. Because my undergraduate background was not in speech-language pathology, I looked for a program that allowed me to complete the necessary prerequisite coursework as part of the program. UVA achieves this through their two-track program, which provides the opportunity for individuals with any undergraduate background to obtain their degree with only two additional semesters of coursework. The format and speed of the program at UVA appealed to me when compared with other schools.
When visiting UVA for the first time, the location of the university took me by surprise. Growing up outside of D.C. I missed out on viewing the Blue Ridge Mountains that are a large part of the canvas of UVA and Charlottesville. The campus also features beautiful brick buildings with white accents that I fell in love with at first sight. The last factor that led to my decision to choose UVA was the clinical experience. UVA houses a speech and language clinic onsite for treatment of families in the community and training of new clinicians during the program. The program also includes multiple clinical experiences outside of the university clinic prior to graduation, which helped me feel confident that I would gain hours of exposure across multiple disorders prior to starting my career.
Q: If you had to choose one thing that had the greatest impact on you during your time at UVA, what would that be?
During my time at UVA, the Sheila Johnson Clinic hosted a summer camp program specifically for children with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). During this program, clinicians would target different language goals each day, such as expanding language and turn-taking. Each day we would spend a dedicated amount of time with each child in the camp using only the toys we had in our personal bags. Through this program, I learned the important skill of being flexible as a clinician. By having to utilize the same toys to target four different goals across multiple unique children, I learned how to think on my feet and follow the child’s lead. This is a skill I use daily in my career as an SLP, and I am so grateful that I gained that experience so early on in my graduate program.
Q: How did you find your current position, and what is the day-to-day work like?
I am working in an outpatient clinic that serves the Harrisonburg-Rockingham community. I found my current position through a good friend of mine who also works at the clinic. I had been looking to move closer to family and friends and to find a supportive work environment. I have now been at my current position for close to 6 months. Because our clinic serves a rural community, our clinic covers a wide range of disorders and ages. My schedule consists of a caseload of weekly 30-minute visits with patients ranging in age from 1 to 65.
Q: How did your experience at UVA help prepare you for your role?
My experience at UVA included multiple clinical experiences that increased in caseload and hours leading up to graduation. The variety of placements I encountered helped me apply coursework into practice and helped me identify my preferred job placement as I started applying. Through the program you are introduced to treating in an onsite clinic surrounded by experienced supervisors, with the ability to watch back sessions and gain the skill of self-critique. This skill is critical as an SLP to ensure you are constantly self-reflecting on your treatment sessions and adjusting to fit the needs of your clients.
Q: What do you love most about what you do?
I love that speech-language pathology offers flexibility to treat across the lifespan and across a variety of different settings. Going into the program I was unaware of the large scope of this field. So many lives are impacted by speech-language pathologists, and I especially enjoy when I tell someone my job and they dive into a story about how an SLP impacted them or someone they know.
Q: What advice would you give to someone considering a career as an SLP?
I would want someone considering a career as an SLP to know that it can be a very rewarding field, but it is not without challenges. I recommend trying to observe an SLP if you can, and do research on the full scope of disorders covered in this field.
Communication Sciences and Disorders M.Ed.
UVA's A full-time clinical degree program has a long, successful record of producing clinicians who are fully prepared for a rewarding career as a speech-language pathologist.