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In This Issue

       

Educational journey leads Sean Hess to discover his passion

Scholarships have been essential for the WSU student in Communication Sciences and Disorders

Sean Hess in a therapy room at the Evelyn Hendren Cassat Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic.
Sean Hess in a therapy room at the Evelyn Hendren Cassat Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic.

A chance encounter at a birthday party created a whole new life for Sean Hess.

He was a singer asked to perform an Italian aria for the birthday girl. She was that birthday girl, Kathy Coufal, chair of the WSU Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD).

When the two struck up a conversation, Hess, a vocal performance major at Wichita State, told Coufal he had recently decided to pursue a different degree but hadn’t figured out what. An eloquent ambassador for her program, Coufal soon convinced Hess to take a close look at CSD.

That was six years ago. Today, Hess is a doctoral student in CSD with aspirations to establish his own clinic someday offering a full range of services to people on the autism spectrum.

“I had never even heard of this field before talking to Kathy,” Hess says. “I knew nothing about speech pathology or audiology.”

But after six years of classes and clinical study, he has discovered a passion for helping people with one of the most basic functions of human life, communicating.

“When I see children — from preschool to high school — struggle to communicate, and adults who for one reason or another have lost their ability to communicate effectively, it really demonstrates how profoundly important the ability to communicate is, to say how you’re feeling or what you’re thinking,” Hess says.

“When you can’t do that effectively, it really changes your quality of life — and the quality of life of your family and the people around you,” says Hess, who hopes to complete his doctorate by next fall.

Partly because he has been in college for a long period, since 2006, and partly because he grew up in a family with tight financial resources, Hess has relied on grants, student loans and scholarships while at Wichita State. He’s also worked part-time as a restaurant server and earned extra money with positions as a graduate research assistant and a graduate teaching assistant for CSD.

This year, he has received generous assistance from the Stan and Rosalind Scudder Scholarship/Fellowship. Rosalind Scudder retired in 2013 as a professor and graduate coordinator for CSD. She also served as director of the WSU Center for Teaching and Research Excellence.

Scudder says she saw first-hand the needs of CSD students who carry heavy class loads, work rotations in the Speech-Language-Hearing Clinic, and usually hold down jobs on top of all that. She helps select the students who receive the scholarship, and looks for those with financial need as well as those who show academic and clinical promise.

“This was most certainly true of Sean,” Scudder says. “He is an outstanding student, and an empathetic, engaging clinical practitioner as well. It is such a delight to listen to his goals, to observe him interacting with fellow students and professors, and know of his excellent clinical work with children and adults.”

Growing up in a single-parent household with five children in it, Hess says his financial aid has been invaluable to him.

“I’m in awe of those who would selflessly give of their own resources to help others get a college degree, with no expectation of getting anything in return,” he says. “It’s one of the highest expressions of compassion and caring I can think of, and I am truly grateful to those who have helped me get to where I am today.”

Scudder, especially, has been a mentor and friend, Hess says.

“When I found out I was to receive the scholarship she and her husband established, I called her up and said, ‘I can’t just write you a letter of thanks. I’m taking you to coffee.’ She is truly an inspiration.”