UCF speech-language pathology graduate students recently applied their clinical skills in a culturally diverse setting thanks to a new UCF exchange program with the University of Puerto Rico.

Four students traveled to Puerto Rico from June 4-8 with Linda I. Rosa-Lugo, an associate professor of communication sciences and disorders at UCF who is passionate about preparing speech-language pathologists to address the needs of diverse populations in the United States.

“I wanted the students to experience what it’s like to work with children and adults with communication disorders who speak another language,” said Rosa-Lugo. “Many families from Puerto Rico make their homes here in Florida, especially Central Florida, so an experience like this can be invaluable for students preparing to work with this population.”

A primary objective of the program was to increase the UCF students’ language proficiency in Spanish and conversely to increase the UPR students’ proficiency in English. To encourage conversations in Spanish and English, each UCF student was paired with a student from UPR’s speech-language pathology graduate program.

The students traveled together to clinical settings on the island, including a medical campus where they assisted with both high-risk infants and adults with neurological disorders.

“The pediatric hospital and neurocognitive rehab center where I was placed offered me a lot of insight about the ways in which SLPs work with clients and their families in Puerto Rico,” said UCF student Ana Natera. “It was great to see such caring clinicians at each of the sites and a wonderful learning experience to see SLPs providing therapy in Spanish.”

Other students assisted at Casa Rosa, a clinical site in Old San Juan. “It was wonderful to observe at Casa Rosa and learn about programs and services available for preschoolers with autism,” shared UCF student Astrid Soriano.

All of the UCF students valued the opportunity to learn from faculty members and students from UPR. “You gain insight into both their philosophy and how it works in everyday life,” noted another UCF student, Caroline Krohne.

Rosa-Lugo is developing the exchange program as part of a grant she secured from the U.S. Department of Education to support the preparation of 40 new speech-language pathologists at UCF who can serve the needs of school-age English-language learners. She intends to continue the exchange program in the future.

“The program is off to a great start,” Rosa-Lugo said. “I could not have asked for a better partner in this mission than the speech-language pathology program at UPR.”