Project EPICS Final Year Activities Derailed By Pandemic

Three Project EPICS scholars from Group 1 completed their California externship in Summer 2019 at the LEARN Speech Therapy Clinic. L to R: John Payne, and Lillian Reyes, scholars, Dawn Hansen, externship supervisor, Lisa Eclavea, scholar, and Lynzy Melzer, Co-supervisor. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Group 2’s externship originally scheduled for this summer has been postponed.

As the much-quoted Scottish poet Robert Burns has said, “the best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” so have the plans with Project EPICS.

The Educating Pacific Island Clinicians in Speech-Language Pathology (EPICS) Project, is a personnel preparation grant funded by the US DOE awarded to San José State University, in partnership with Guam CEDDERS. With a start date of May 2015, the goal of this five-year project is to facilitate the training of graduate-level personnel from the U.S. affiliated Pacific Basin jurisdictions in speech-language pathology to meet the critical need of certified professionals in this specialty area.

Although some challenges occurred during these past four and half years since the start of the project, the Work Plan and timeline originally mapped out for the implementation of EPICS, including activities and milestones, were, for the most part, met for the majority of the student “scholars” enrolled in the program.  Over the past two years, 18 scholars were on track to complete their requirements to graduate with a master’s degree in speech-language pathology in August 2020.

And then the coronavirus pandemic hit in full force in mid-March.

Initially, coursework actually proceeded as planned. The scholars were in the midst of completing two online courses so there was no need to develop modifications in that area.  What was impacted, though, was their ability to earn their practicum hours, which required face-to-face interaction under the direct supervision of a licensed speech-language pathologist (SLP). An on-site visit scheduled for the end of March through the first week of April by Dr. Wendy Quach, EPICS Co-Principal Investigator, and Project Director, to facilitate final scholar advisement and project logistics was canceled as air travel was suspended.  An even bigger challenge was the cancellation of the second cohort of nine scholars going to California in the Summer to complete their eight-week externship in the San José area.

After a two-week period of waiting to see how the quarantine unfolded, the following decisions were made: 

  • The Comprehensive Examination, a final requirement for the program scheduled for May 2, proceeded as scheduled.  Scholars were able to take the examination online in their homes.
  • Scholars were given additional opportunities to earn practicum hours via “Simucase,” a platform under the supervision of SJSU instructors.
  • Final program completion activities including student exit interviews and completion ceremony were postponed until August 2021.
  • The scholars who completed their externship during the Summer of 2019, and who meet all other graduation requirements would receive their master’s degree by August 2020.
  • The scholars in Cohort 2 whose externships were canceled for this summer were given an option to earn their practicum hours this Fall on Guam or wait until Summer 2021.  One scholar has opted for the first choice while the remaining eight have decided to wait till next Summer.

Project officials are in the process of formally receiving approval for a “No Cost Extension” year to complete the project.  In addition, EPICS administrators met online with representatives from the CNMI Public School System and Guam Department of Education Division of Special Education to provide project updates and discuss the next steps relative to the availability of scholars and potential clinical/job placements into their respective systems.

After a challenging four-and-a-half-year grueling schedule for all involved and getting to the point of making it to the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel,” to say that project stakeholders are disappointed and saddened by this unfortunate turn of events is an understatement. However, given the global state of affairs faced by all, these steps had to be taken.

During the summer months, scholars for the most part will be working on completing their online Simucase hours and completing other requirements as needed and available online.  They will also be studying for and taking the Praxis examination online, an examination required for national certification that is needed to be eligible for their nine-month Clinical Fellowship under the mentorship of a licensed speech pathologist.  By the end of July, several of them will have completed all requirements and will be eligible for graduation.  The remaining scholars will continue with their preparation for Praxis, if they decide to take it later, and keeping their knowledge and skills up to date in preparation for their Externship next summer.   

Hopefully, no new challenges and barriers will arise to derail these plans.  Stay tuned for the next update in September.