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From the Chronicle: The Value of a Bachelor’s Degree

15 Nov

In a recent article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jennifer Gonzalez cites a report titled, “Career Clusters: Forecasting Demand for High School Through College Jobs, 2008-18.” The report highlights the industries expected to offer the best employment prospects for high school and college graduates. Gonzalez shares some of the report’s findings, writing that:

  • Workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher have expanded career opportunities. “Seventy-two percent of the jobs available for such workers were concentrated in nine occupational clusters, including science, technology, engineering and mathematics; government and public administration; information technology; and health science.”
  • The occupations “with the highest demand for workers with a bachelor’s degree also tend to be those that are growing—actually adding new jobs in addition to replacement jobs, the report finds. Health science, for example is projected to rank first in the number of jobs added and second in overall growth rate through 2018.”
  • “The fast-growing clusters also pay some of the better salaries. In the financial cluster, actuaries with a bachelor’s degree earned an average of $121,500, and engineering managers in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) cluster earned $117,100.”

The bottom line? “A college education is still valuable, even in a down economy. […] Today’s economy puts a premium on education, training, and flexibility.”

Nazareth continues to demonstrate the value of an interdisciplinary undergraduate education by preparing students to become successful professionals and engaged citizens. The College accomplishes this by offering challenging academic programs for in-demand majors and providing students with off-campus experiential learning opportunities.

For example, one-third of Nazareth students are enrolled in the College’s visionary School of Health and Human Services, which offers majors from across the health care spectrum, including physical therapy, creative arts therapy, occupational therapy, communication sciences and disorders, nursing, and social work. This combination of traditional and creative arts therapy programs is unique in upstate New York. In addition, the College’s signature on-campus Rehabilitation and Wellness Clinics serve not only students and faculty in learning, but also offer campus-based clinical services to thousands of uninsured or under-served area residents.

Nazareth’s SHHS programs focus on career preparation and interprofessional collaboration, both in the classroom as well as clinical settings. As a result, the licensure pass rates for programs such as creative arts therapy, speech-language pathology, and physical therapy are 95 to 100 percent annually. And generations of Nazareth graduates, known for their deep subject expertise and liberal arts foundation, make up the backbone of the region’s health care leadership. In fact, since 2002, 95 to 100 percent of SHHS graduates are employed just after graduation, with most of them in the western New York region.

With the opening of the new Integrated Center for Math and Science in fall 2012, the College will better meet the needs of all its students, regardless of major or discipline. The building will feature state-of-the art classrooms and labs that all undergraduate students will use during their time at Nazareth. These students will then go on to become the health care workers, educators, scientists, artists, businesspeople, activists, and professionals who will transform this region and beyond for years to come.

WXXI Features President Braveman Speaking on Math and Science & Community Impact

11 May

The Journey To Be Understood

13 Apr

(This article originally appeared in the March-April 2011 edition of Rochester Magazine. It appears here with permission from the publishers)

A little-known clinic at Nazareth College is quietly changing people’s notions about recovery after brain trauma.

By Anish Majumdar

At the Nazareth College Aphasia Clinic, client Susan Gibson uses a special pen devised for people who have trouble gripping a regular pen.

The waiting room of Nazareth College’s Aphasia Clinic is well stocked with magazines, but the people gathered here aren’t reading them. They’re engaged in something more fundamental: the seemingly simple yet incredibly complex act of trying to speak and respond naturally. Most of the faces are middle-aged, and a few show signs of deep exhaustion or anxiety in their eyes.

Aphasia is an inability to communicate—be it speaking, writing or comprehension—usually triggered by a stroke or traumatic brain injury. The 60 or so clients of the Pittsford clinic, one of only a handful in the country, are taking part in an experiment of sorts—one that melds cutting-edge technology with the primitive, repetition-based needs of the human brain seeking new ways to be understood. Along the way they’re redefining what’s possible for those struck silent, offering new hope to the estimated one million Americans grappling with this debilitating disorder.

“We focus on practical benefits,” says Merideth Rao, clinical assistant professor of Speech-Language Pathology at Nazareth College and head of the clinic. “How can we increase a person’s engagement with life?”

As they do, they’re defying some conventional wisdom about how much progress people with aphasia can make.

Gary Neverett is a prime example. On June 11, 2006, Gary suffered a stroke. He and his wife, Mary, had been married less than six months when it happened.

“He couldn’t speak,” Mary says. “Nothing besides gibberish and a few Spanish words; he’d studied Spanish years ago.”

A typical course of rehabilitation would last six months. “The doctors told us whatever Gary gets back in six months is it,” Mary says. With the clock ticking, most people would want as much therapy as possible. But as Mary points out, “there was no way our insurance was going to pay for daily therapy sessions.”

Like many families in their position, the Neveretts went into debt to pay for extra sessions. Progress was agonizingly slow.

“I could understand OK,” Gary says, speaking softly and haltingly. “When I spoke, in my mind, I was talking like normal…but it came out wrong.” He shifts in his seat, appearing uncomfortable with returning to that time in the critical care wing of the hospital, brain swollen to the point where Mary had been forced to make arrangements for his passing. After he pulled through, he found his struggles were only beginning.

“Do you have any idea how many motor skills are involved in speech?” asks Mary, 37. “The positioning of the tongue, the lips…it’s endless. I had to become an expert to help Gary. The whole family did. His mother still comes every Saturday to help with his reading.”

Gary, 41, speaks in a low, mostly uninflected voice. Replies are frequently monosyllabic, and sentences often lack conjunctions such as “with” or “and.” Christina Damin, the student clinician who works with Gary, leads him through exercises that seem like children’s games: making the noise of a siren to improve how he makes the “r” sound; showing pictures of a dog playing with a Frisbee or a family having a picnic and asking him to describe it in full. He gets frustrated but continues on, displaying the obsessive drive that took him from a mostly mute shell to where he is today.

“I wouldn’t accept it,” Gary says of the time span his doctors originally gave him to improve. “They told me six months…I thought, ‘You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am…what I can do.’ He pauses for several moments to try to organize his next thought. “It’s a lie…I was going to prove them wrong.”

But as he wrestled with the intricacies of relearning pronunciation, their finances steadily declined. Insurance coverage ran out within the first year, forcing them to shoulder the full cost of Gary’s rehabilitation. They had to ask the landlord for extensions. American Filtration, Gary’s former employer, pitched in. The Salvation Army paid their electric bill. Grim as the situation became, the idea of stopping therapy and allowing Gary to regress wasn’t an option. That’s when they heard about a clinic in Rochester offering long-term therapy for little more than a token fee—roughly $60 a semester.

“Our clinic is unusual because we’re not reimbursed through third parties such as managed care and insurance payers,” Rao says. “Many family services are limited to a specific number of visits for speech therapy, or else a client is discharged for having reached a ‘plateau’ in treatment when a third party is paying. We don’t have those limitations. We find out what someone like Gary wants to achieve, and then we’ll work together, as long as it takes, to help him get there.”

Progress Report

And yes, says Rao, people do make progress beyond those first six months—especially what she calls functional progress. “For example, an individual with aphasia may always have word-finding problems, and that specific difficulty may not go away, but functionally the client learns to use a strategy to compensate effectively,” she explains. “They start by using it in therapy, groups, home, community and even back to work.  They functionally become more independent in their communication skill and effectiveness, even though the impairment persists.”

Another client, Susan Gibson, 43, is at the clinic today with her mother, who prompts her to join a conversation about recent movies. She starts off enviably smooth, rattling off scenes and actors, but runs into trouble when someone asks about a particular show time. Unable to verbalize the numbers, she traces 3, 3 and 0 on her lap. Her mother says, “3:30” and the talk continues. Tactics like this are the direct result of the work done at the clinic, teaching clients coping strategies that ideally will, in time, create new pathways around a damaged section of the brain.

One client, says Rao, developed a script to follow when conveying basic information. Instead of searching endlessly for words, he used the script to call his physician’s office and make an appointment—something he had relied on his spouse to do for four years after suffering a stroke. A seemingly small victory, but for someone who has lost independence, such progress represents true improvement.

These sorts of “external memory aids” play an important role. Nick deVries, a lanky 28-year-old sporting a track jacket and three-day growth of scruff, breezes into the clinic like a movie star, cracking jokes with the student clinicians, all women, who conduct therapy sessions under Rao’s supervision. He’s obsessed with his Motorola Droid smartphone, which acts as a defense against finicky short-term memory. When he speaks, his words come out slurred, which, combined with a pronounced weaving to his gait, creates a very specific impression.

“I speak like a drunk,” he explains. “Which, don’t get me wrong, has its perks. But in general, it’s a problem for a well-spoken man such as myself.” He chuckles. “I was salutatorian of my high school class, you know.”

On July 18, 2007, Nick was riding his motorcycle down State Route 57 in Southern California when he hit a truck in the exit lane. He woke up in the hospital, ending a coma that had lasted weeks and which his family feared might prove permanent. Moving his mouth was an effort. Gesturing, impossible. “The years I spent in California are just…gone,” he says. “My life there…” shaking his head, “are like blank pages in the middle of a book.” Sensing things have gotten too grave, Nick insists I show him my phone, a hopelessly out-of-date model he teases me about.

“Not even a QWERTY keyboard?” he asks, rolling his eyes. “Come on, man.”

Hillary Gotham, the student clinician who works with Nick, says, “He recognizes how lucky he is to be walking, talking, breathing. There are parts of his speech that will never recover. Not without surgery or a prosthesis. But until then, we work on what we can improve.”

“Today I’d like to work on enunciation,” he says to her. “It’s holding me back.” When I ask what his goal in therapy is, he exchanges a look with Hillary, who almost manages to hide a smirk.

“I want to pick up a girl,” he says.

Some clients, suffering from severely impaired short-term memory, have used smartphones to help record activities of daily living, actually managing to go back to college and live independently. The Apple iPad and iPod Touch both have speech-therapy applications, and the Amazon Kindle e-reader can provide simultaneous auditory and visual information. Voice recognition software, for clients who can speak fluently but have lost the ability to spell, can translate their spoken words into e-mails.

The biggest challenge

Back in the waiting room, Gibson’s mother is waiting for her daughter to complete a session. Her hands slowly twist and untwist the fanny pack on her lap. In some ways, the rehabilitation process seems harder on family members than those stricken.

“You never imagine having to help your daughter re-learn how to dress or walk or speak,” she says, referring to the brain aneurysm Gibson suffered three years ago. “We had our separate lives and then suddenly it was over, and it feels like we’ve just been running nonstop ever since.” She talks about Gibson’s difficulty with picking up social cues since the aneurysm; recent sessions have consisted of group conversations with a “turning stone” to signal that the possessor has the right to speak.

“We’re trying to get to a point where she can work again, and there has been a huge amount of improvement, but it wears you out. She’s living with me now, and that’s no way for either of us to be.” She takes her glasses off and begins rubbing the lenses with the end of her T-shirt. “There’s all this sadness, anger that neither of us allowed ourselves to feel. But it’s starting to come out now.”

“People grieve in different ways,” Rao explains. “The loss of language can feel like a death. Coping with that is the biggest challenge any of our clients face.”

Rao is sitting in the clinic’s “control room,” keeping tabs on multiple therapy sessions playing out on rows of black-and-white video screens. Since taking over the clinic in 2004 from founder Shirley Szekeres, dean of the School of Health and Human Services, she has seen clients throw tantrums, break down sobbing, walk out.

Yet she seems unfazed, driven by a stubborn curiosity to understand and address their challenges—a trait that transfers to the student clinicians, who constantly try new ways to help clients break through. They use everything from Wii video games to music and art therapy, which have helped produce new insights. The rhythms of communication are as complex as the psyches seeking to regain it, and just as unpredictable.


“Many of our clients were followed by neurology services but aren’t anymore,” Rao says. “I wish they could have the opportunity to see the progress our clients are making. How do you make a stranger understand what a miracle Gary’s transformation is?”

But the work continues; such miracles seem to bring not resolution but more challenges. As Mary puts it, her husband’s stroke did more than affect his ability to communicate. “His brain changed, fundamentally. He’s more sensitive now. Everyday phrases that mean nothing—sometimes he’ll get hurt by them.” She’s quiet for a few moments. “When he was in the hospital and couldn’t speak, I felt—looking into his eyes—that I could understand him better than anyone in the world. But it’s different now. We’re learning about each other all over again.”

At a recent session, Gary runs into problems attempting to verbally spell out Neverett, his last name. He turns to a tactic learned at the clinic. After “N” and “E” he quickly runs through the alphabet until he discovers the next letter, then repeats the process to the end.

Mary takes his hand and gives it a squeeze.

“That’s good,” she says.

Anish Majumdar is a freelance writer living in East Rochester.

Nazareth Builds Its Health-Care Muscle

27 Oct

by Tim Louis Macaluso


This article is a reprint from the original article

published October 6, 2010 in City Magazine

Physical therapy students train on parallel bars.

Dontay McCray was 17 when a serious automobile accident made him a quadriplegic.

“It broke my neck and bruised my spinal cord,” he says. “It left me with limited movement in my hands and legs.”

A team of four physical therapy students is working with McCray on standing and regaining his balance. McCray is just one of hundreds of people being treated at Nazareth College’s rehabilitation clinics.

Students in the physical therapy clinic – a large room resembling a gymnasium with weights, exercise machines, and parallel bars – have been working to build strength in McCray’s legs. They support him into a sitting position on a pneumatic pad larger than a king-size bed.

It’s been a slow, tough slog for McCray.

“If you do the work, there’s improvement,” he says. “And the students are great. They push me even on those days when I don’t feel like doing it.”

Across the room, Swelonke Simela rests on his back while a student straightens Simela’s leg and lifts gently, stretching his hamstrings and calf muscles. Simela had a stroke five years ago that left him paralyzed on one side of his body. Now he’s walking again.

Over the last four decades, Nazareth has been positioning itself as one of the Northeast’s top choices for students interested in careers in health and human services.

While RIT and the University of Rochester have emphasized research, Nazareth has stressed delivery of skilled services. The college offers a battery of undergraduate and graduate programs in nursing, social work, speech pathology, physical therapy, and music and arts therapy.

Most of the programs are housed on campus in one building. And next fall, Nazareth will add occupational therapy to the mix.

Many colleges offer programs in the health and human services fields. But few have created such an extensive offering of interrelated and allied services. It’s a branding strategy that distinguishes Nazareth from most other colleges, officials say, and it’s one they plan to continue to build on.

The degree programs vary. In some areas including nursing, the college offers a couple of avenues to a bachelor’s degree. But in others such as physical therapy, students can earn a bachelor’s and a doctorate’s degree in six years.

“The constellation of health professional programs we have assembled is unique,” says Shirley Szekeres, dean of the college’s School of Health and Human Services. “Getting the go-ahead for the occupational therapy program was very important. That is big.”

Adding occupational therapy to Nazareth's health and human services programs was part of a long-term strategy, says Dean Shirley Szekeres.

It has taken several years to develop the occupational therapy program, Szekeres says, but it was a necessary addition to round out the college’s offerings. It is part of what Szekeres calls “providing a life participation approach” to services. So often, she says, therapists find that the isolation a patient experiences in the aftermath is worse than the injury or illness.

Nazareth’s rehabilitation clinics see people from almost every age group, from young children to seniors. Students learn rehabilitation skills for a wide range of illnesses and disorders – everything from autism spectrum disorders in children to brain damage in adults.

The advantage for students is learning in an inter-professional culture. It’s not unusual for a person to require the support of multiple disciplines. A stroke victim, for instance, may need physical therapy and speech therapy. And if the person is of working age, occupational therapy may be needed, too.

“That kind of collaboration we are providing is more likely than not what students will need to be able to do once they’re in the field,” Szekeres says.

And the degrees, she says, lead to good-paying careers. The licensure rate for Nazareth students is high. In physical therapy, 96 percent of Nazareth’s students last year passed their state exam the first time they took it. In speech, 100 percent of students passed the first time.

Most experts would agree with Szekeres: the demand for health and human services professionals is expected to be strong well into the next decade. There is even a diverse range of job opportunities in social work, a career with about as much demand as beekeeping 30 years ago. Nazareth offers a master’s degree in social work.

The college has also been among the first to explore new approaches to therapy. Nazareth has a program in Creative Arts Therapy for students to learn to use music and arts therapeutically. The field is still in its infancy.

“It’s a field for musicians and artists who want to be therapists,” says Bryan Hunter, the department’s chair. “In both cases, students have to bring developed skills in music and the arts.”

Music therapy is especially helpful, Hunter says, to people with language barriers.

“So much of our other therapies focus on speech, which is great when it’s there,” he says. “But what do you do if it’s not? A stroke patient may have lost all language overnight, but often they can still respond to music.”

Speech pathologists use cameras to monitor and closely supervise students in therapy sessions.

The benefits of having rehabilitation clinics for arts, music, physical, and speech therapies under one roof are not just for Nazareth’s students, Szekeres says. Faculty members use them as research laboratories.

But the School of Health and Human Services plays an important role in the Rochester region, too. Last year, the college provided services to more 3,300 people.

And the services are free. While the clinics receive some support from grants and private donations, they do not accept third-party reimbursement from Medicare, Medicaid, or private insurance carriers.

While there are long waiting lists for services, there are no established limits to the amount of care people receive, a battle many people face with the health-care system. Some people have been coming to Nazareth’s clinics for several years.

“As long as they have something to work on, a goal we’re trying to achieve, we’ll see them,” Szekeres says. “We don’t turn anyone away.”

Independence on the Menu

18 Aug

In the spring of 2010, four men who have some trouble with language gave a Nazareth campus audience a good talking-to.

The four have aphasia, a condition stemming from strokes or other traumatic brain injuries that leads to challenges in speaking and/or comprehension. And they came up with a compelling project, according to Cameron McCurty, a graduate student in speech therapy from Syracuse.

“They wanted to be able to advocate for themselves, to tell people what aphasia is and how it affects them, and give tips for people to communicate better with people who have aphasia.”

Speaking Out

Steve Gennarino was one of the four. Gennarino had a stroke when he was 57 and has been a patient of the aphasia clinic at Nazareth for more than three years. Cameron was his therapist during the spring semester.

“At the beginning of the semester, we talked about what he wanted to do better,” she said, “That included ordering his own food in a restaurant and having people wait patiently as he speaks.”

Asked how his presentation went over, Steve Gennarino responded, “I felt good about it, but I wanted to give them a little more talking-to.”

Cameron added, “It was really well received. The main objective was to present the face of aphasia to the campus safety department and get it out in community to get a better understanding. A lot of people know someone who has had a stroke but they may not know the difficulties that come with that. It’s nice to put a face on it.”

Unthinking individuals may perceive a person with aphasia as having abused alcohol or another substance, she said, because many times a person who has had a brain injury struggles or searches for the words.

Meeting Goals Together

Gennarino lives with his sister Barb, who is his primary caretaker. “If not for Nazareth’s clinic, Steve wouldn’t have had any more speech therapy,” said Barb Gennarino. “You know the complications of the health care system – they want to get most folks to a basic functional level and then it’s ‘okay, thank you very much, you’re on your way.’ This was a fantastic opportunity to continue.”

The advantages of Nazareth’s aphasia clinic go beyond speech therapy. “Without the clinic, many of our patients would be home with a spouse or alone,” Cameron said.

“Social bonds form at the clinic. Patients meet people with similar experiences and develop friendships they wouldn’t have otherwise made.”

Barb Gennarino added, “Lots of times, the highlight of the week is coming to our clinic.”

Cameron, who will graduate in December, said she has found her passion in aphasia work. “All my supervisors are saying you’re made for this, this is your place. It’s a joy to work with Steve. It’s a partnership – I make suggestions, he makes suggestions, we figure out what works for him, and go toward our goals together.”

Flower Power

25 Apr

It was a gray, brisk day in early April, and while most gardeners in the northeast anxiously waited for Memorial Day to do their planting, a group of women gathered in the Nazareth College greenhouse to admire their already blooming begonias and amaryllis.

Since January, *Luisa, *Susan, *Alice and, *Karen have visited the greenhouse weekly to plant seeds, and then water and care for the plants that have helped them regain the language skills they lost due to chronic aphasia. Aphasia is the impairment of the ability to understand and/or express ideas in language, usually as a result of a stroke or other brain injury.

The visits are part of a new collaboration between the School of Health and Human Services’ (SHHS) speech-language pathology program and the College of Arts and Sciences’ (CAS) biology department. The women are patients of the aphasia clinic, an on-campus facility where speech-language therapy students develop clinical skills while delivering affordable services to underserved adults in the Rochester community with aphasia.

*To protect the privacy of the clients, surnames were not included in this story.

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Belfast and Beyond

25 Feb

Brittany Forcione ’10, is eagerly preparing for the next step towards her dream of becoming a doctor and medical researcher as she keeps busy with her final semester of senior year at Nazareth. She just scored above the 90th percentile in the nation on her senior comprehensive exam, and she is currently working in a lab at the University of Rochester (U of R) that focuses on leukemia research.

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Road to Recovery

25 Dec

Nick DeVries’ life changed drastically back in July of 2007. The Rochester native, now 27, was living in California and working for a large corporation in their customer service division. Nick had earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Buffalo, and was just starting to think about enrolling at California State University to study architecture. All told, life was pretty good — until the accident.

“I don’t remember any of it,” says DeVries, who had been on his motorcycle that night. “All I know is that I was in the exit lane, and then nothing.”

Nick Devries’ life changed drastically after suffering a traumatic brain injury from a motorcycle accident in 2007.

After spending five weeks in an induced coma to minimize brain swelling, DeVries was medevaced back to Rochester to be with his family. Now, after nearly two years on the road to recovery, DeVries is a regular visitor to Nazareth College’s aphasia clinic, where he is one of the many patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI) who are working their way back to a more independent life.

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Students Embrace Transcultural Nursing in Finland and Hungary

25 Nov

Nursing graduate Andrea Young ’09 (Webster, N.Y.) was faced with a challenge: how does an American nurse provide health care for patients when they can’t speak English? Studying abroad in Helsinki and Budapest showed her the way.

“It’s about taking that extra step to make patients comfortable. You can still have a caring relationship, even if you don’t speak the same language. Non-verbal communication is key,” Andrea said. “My experiences abroad made me appreciate people who go out of their way to communicate with me.” Studying in far-flung cities gave her skills to use on the post-surgical floor for GYN patients at Highland Hospital here in Rochester.

Andrea was one of the first to take part in the Atlantis Program, an exchange with Laurea University of Applied Sciences in Finland and Semmelweis University in Hungary. The program strengthens Nazareth’s focus on transcultural nursing, which considers the ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds of all patients.

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The Mechanics of Healing

25 Feb

It is said that you never forget how to ride a bike. For Dick Polen, it’s not so much about forgetting, but about the challenges of an injury. In 2005, Polen slipped and fell in a bath tub. His accident led to an infected bone that started with a diabetic foot ulcer. “I was given two choices: let gangrene set in or amputate. There really wasn’t a choice,” said Polen. His left leg was amputated below the knee. He completed five weeks of rehabilitation for his new prosthetic leg but felt like he needed something more: “I learned how to get around with my prosthesis and get better balance, but I wanted to learn how to keep my balance.”

That’s when Polen learned about the Rehabilitation and Wellness Clinics at Nazareth College. His therapy is part of a unique collaboration between Nazareth’s department of physical therapy and Rochester Institute of Technology’s (RIT) Kate Gleason College of Engineering. RIT engineering students are given an opportunity to complete a project from start to finish by designing therapeutic equipment to meet the needs of the patients of Nazareth’s physical therapy clinics.

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