By Kate Hunger
Mitzi Hardeman had been working in customer service for a decade when she decided she wanted a different career.
“I wanted to help people in a more meaningful way and to do something in the sciences,” Hardeman said.
While researching different therapy-based professions, she shadowed a speech-language pathologist and liked what she observed, including the opportunity to study the brain and work with a variety of clients. Because her undergraduate degree in communication studies is not related to communication sciences and disorders, Hardeman took online leveling courses before applying to the speech-language pathology program in the School of Health Professions at UT Health San Antonio.
“I was just immediately drawn to the feel of the program,” she recalled. “Getting to meet professors during an open house really solidified that this was the choice I wanted to go with. I loved that it is a medically based program, because I felt like that would open more doors for me.”
One thing she didn’t plan on was earning a perfect score on the national speech-language pathology certifying exam. Yet that’s exactly what Hardeman, who graduated with her master’s in May 2021, did.
“I sat there and stared at the screen and thought, ‘I’m not sure that’s right,’” she said. “I didn’t set out to get a perfect score. I really just wanted to study thoroughly enough to be sure I would pass.”
Hardeman credits her professors for preparing students well.
“It was the program overall—the thoroughness of each professor in all of our classes—that ultimately prepared us for the exam,” she said.
Fang-Ling Lu, PhD, CCC-SLP, associate professor and chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, praised Hardeman’s diligence and drive in her academic and research endeavors, noting that Hardeman had joined her research team.
“In my 24 years working with speech-language pathology students, this is the first time I ever have had a student achieve such a record,” Dr. Lu said of Hardeman’s exam performance.
Hardeman is looking forward to making a difference in the quality of life her clients experience.
“We get the honor and the privilege of helping people who can’t communicate be able to do so, and that is tied to quality of life in terms of helping them build meaningful relationships,” she said. “We get to help people who are having trouble swallowing. Eating and enjoying a meal with the family is a huge part of quality of life.”
With each class she took in the program, Hardeman came away excited by what she had learned about the brain and communication.
“I feel lucky there is so much variety in this profession, that everything is fascinating and that you can do any number of things and have a wonderful career.”