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Research experience at MSU propels Meldrum toward career in speech language pathology

 

MSU Photo by Adrian Sanchez-Gonzalez

Jacie Meldrum poses for a photograph. Meldrum, a Montana State University student majoring in early childhood education and child services in the College of Education, Health and Human Development, graduated May 4. She participated April 30 in the Council of Undergraduate Research 23rd Annual Posters on the Hill in Washington, D.C., representing Montana, and sharing her research to congressional representatives on difficulties faced by rural parents of children with disabilities in accessing and engaging health services.

By Anne Cantrell

MSU News Service

BOZEMAN - A research class Havre High School graduate Jacie Meldrum opted to take her first year at Montana State University has propelled her toward a future career that she previously didn't even know existed.

It also led to her participation in one of the country's most prestigious undergraduate research fairs. Meldrum presented her research poster, "Families' Experiences with Early Intervention Services in Montana: Alignment with Evidence-Based Recommended Practices," at the Council on Undergraduate Research's Posters on the Hill event held April 30 in Washington, D.C. The annual event showcases the work of undergraduate researchers from across the country. Meldrum was accompanied by Kalli Decker, assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Development and Meldrum's research mentor.

Sixty students from around the country were selected from more than 360 submissions to participate in the event held at the Rayburn Office Building, which houses offices for U.S. representatives. While in Washington, Meldrum and Decker also spoke with one of Montana's elected officials and with staff members of other Montana elected officials.

Meldrum, who aspires to a career as a speech language pathologist, graduated from MSU May 4 with bachelor's degrees in early childhood education and child services as well as in psychology from the College of Education, Health and Human Development and the College of Letters and Science.

She said she enjoyed taking interesting and challenging courses for both majors, but it was her involvement on Decker's research team that solidified her career path. The team's research focuses on early intervention services for families of infants and toddlers with delays and/or disabilities, and specifically on assessing how families' descriptions of the early intervention services align with recommended practices.

As part of their work, members of the team met with families and early intervention professionals - such as family support specialists, speech language pathologists, physical therapists and occupational therapists - from across the state in an effort to better understand Montana's early intervention system. In her first year at MSU, Meldrum began working with the research team by transcribing video interviews of 30 families as they discussed their experiences with early intervention services.

Later, in the summer of 2017, Meldrum and other members of the research team traveled throughout the state, conducting follow-up interviews with 28 of the 30 families. During the interviews, research team members asked families about their satisfaction with the services and their involvement with their child's interventions, among other topics. Meldrum's research was supported by Montana INBRE, which is housed at MSU; MSU's College of Education, Health and Human Development, and MSU's Undergraduate Scholars Program.

The team found that, on the whole, families feel satisfied with their services and primarily have good relationships with the professional providers with whom they're working, Meldrum said. The team also identified some ways to improve services without requiring extra time and money, she said. One example is inviting parents into the room as a professional works with a child so that the parents can participate and learn to incorporate the interventions at home. Decker and Meldrum are working on a paper based on the findings, which they plan to submit to a peer-reviewed journal for publication.

Meldrum, who started at MSU solely as a psychology major, said she knew she was interested in working with children but didn't want to be a schoolteacher. She was interested in child development and decided to enroll in a research class Decker taught, which led to working on Decker's research team.

Meldrum said she was moved by the research, particularly by hearing the families' stories.

"I realized there was a whole area of working with children that I had really never been exposed to," she said, adding that what was particularly compelling was the way the families talked about the growth their children had experienced and their positive relationships with professionals. "For a lot of families that was really transformative. (Having professional support) empowered them. I wanted to be a part of it."

This fall, Meldrum will begin a master's program in speech language pathology at the University of Utah. She said her dream is to eventually return to Montana to work as a pediatric speech language pathologist.

"I'd like to work with young children and see more family engagement," she said. "The research shows that when working with a young child, instead of working with that child for an hour or so, ideally the professional is teaching the parent how to do that (work) at home. That's really interesting to me, and I would love to do some coaching like that."

Meldrum's time at MSU, specifically her experiences conducting research, have set her up for future success, she said.

"I've learned how to ask better questions and think on my own and feel confident I have something to contribute," she said. "I also learned a lot about working on a team and listening to others' ideas and thinking creatively about what I can contribute."

Decker said Meldrum will begin her master's program with "a wealth of knowledge related to how to best support young children with exceptionalities and their families."

She added that mentoring Meldrum has been "an absolute privilege."

"As a freshman at MSU I saw her curiosity to learn more by being involved in research, and she has shown tremendous growth over the last few years," Decker said. "What I appreciate most about Jacie is her insightfulness and dedication, yet how down-to-earth she is. She is the team member who can bring up the most complex and meaningful questions in one moment and have us all laughing lightheartedly in the next moment."

Meldrum's advice to future students is to take classes and get involved in projects that interest them.

"I didn't need to take Dr. Decker's class for my major, but I took it because I was interested," she said. "It probably changed my entire life. Try it out, even if you're not sure what the outcome might be."

 

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