The new scholarship is expected to help students of color continue their studies in speech therapy and improve Schreiber’s ability to hire therapists from more diverse backgrounds.
The Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development is advancing its commitment to diversity and inclusion by establishing a scholarship at Penn State that will benefit graduate students from underrepresented backgrounds in Penn State’s College of Health and Human Development.
The new scholarship will channel support to master’s-level graduate students who have distinguished themselves through academic excellence in the field of speech-language pathology in the college’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Schreiber is in the process of raising the $275,000 it pledged to donate to the fund. It will do so while keeping its commitment to raise the funds needed for the center’s daily operations.
That gift will be matched by Penn State’s recently concluded Educational Equity Matching Program, yielding an endowment of $550,000 that will generate financial resources in perpetuity.
As an extension of the award, recipients will be granted the option of undertaking an externship at Schreiber, creating a bridge to experiential learning that Schreiber expects will help it recruit and hire more minority candidates for therapy positions.
The new endowment is an outgrowth of the Schreiber Center’s longstanding commitment to serving vulnerable populations. It was founded in 1936 by Edna Schreiber and other community leaders in response to the polio epidemic. Since then, the organization has evolved into an independent, nationally recognized pediatric rehabilitation facility — one of only a handful of independent centers in the United States — that provides outpatient physical, occupational, speech and behavioral therapy for children from birth to age 21. It now serves more the 4,000 clients annually from 10 counties across central Pennsylvania.
Recently, the organization redoubled its commitment to reducing disparities in care and to fostering an organization that better reflects the diverse populations it serves. Its new initiatives include connecting with national associations representing professionals of color to expand its hiring pool; conducting outreach in local school districts to affirm the professional aspirations of young people; strengthening clinical affiliations with historically black colleges and universities; and drawing on job training programs that are equipped to attract people of color into every department and to its management team.
James DeBord, who has served as president of the center since 2012, prioritized the initiatives as new data revealed inequities in the field of speech therapy. For instance, as of 2019, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reported that only 8.3 percent of its more than 200,000 members identified as racial minorities, indicating a discrepancy between clients and practitioners that has the potential to impact quality of care.
DeBord was already keyed into Penn State’s status as an educational leader in training the next generation of speech-language pathologists, as the largest proportion of Schreiber’s practitioners held degrees from Penn State’s program. He saw an opportunity to bolster the resources that Penn State’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders had at its disposal to recruit and train aspiring speech-language pathologists from underrepresented backgrounds.
“Throughout our history, Schreiber has always tried to provide services to some of the most vulnerable children in our community,” DeBord said. “Our mantra is we will serve every family who needs us, and we want every child we see to reach their fullest potential. But in the past — and even still today — we have not achieved the diversity in our field that would best benefit our clients. By endowing this graduate scholarship at Penn State, we are taking a long-overdue step to advance equitable access to training in outpatient pediatric therapy services, with the long-term goal of creating a pool of speech-language pathology experts that reflect the communities they serve.”
Though DeBord is keenly aware that scholarships in higher education are no panacea for the systemic injustices that have obstructed the professional advancement of minority populations, he saw that creating a permanent pipeline for diversity would deliver immediate progress that would have a cumulative downstream effect.
“The college’s speech-language pathology program continues to pioneer interventions that are having a transformative effect on augmenting communication,” said Craig J. Newschaffer, Raymond E. and Erin Stuart Schultz Dean of the College of Health and Human Development. “However, assembling the resources that are needed to recruit and retain top-level graduate applicants from diverse backgrounds is always a challenge. The Schreiber Center for Pediatric Development Educational Equity Graduate Scholarship represents a major expansion in our capacity to secure talented applicants from across the full spectrum of candidates. The fact that the scholarship comes with a built-in externship opportunity only magnifies the impact this gift will have. We are deeply grateful to Schreiber for its generosity and leadership in making all these advances possible.” Schreiber’s gift will advance “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. To learn more, visit the “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence” website. To contribute to Schreiber’s portion of the fund, visit www.schreiberpediatric.org.