Mary Gulotta, of Trucksville, has seen firsthand the enormous toll a communication disorder and the bullying and teasing associated with it can have on an individual. It’s one of the reasons she chose to major in speech-language pathology at Misericordia University, so she could help others – like her best friend from high school – find the voice they all deserve.
Throughout her high school years, Gulotta saw her best friend struggle with his communication disorder – the result of being born with a cleft palate. Post-surgery, her friend still spoke with a hypernasal voice and nasal emission. By the time they reached high school, he was uneasy when he had to speak in public. At times, he relied on others to speak for him, including Gulotta.
“He used to share with me the reactions he constantly received from people about his voice and mentioned to me that these reactions made him insecure,’’ says the daughter of Steven and Linda Gulotta. “As a result, he limited his talking. Because of the issues he had with speaking in public, he would often ask me to speak for him when we were together – whether it was flagging down a person in a store or ordering in a restaurant.
“I recognized the impact that his voice had on him personally, his confidence and his self-esteem,’’ Gulotta adds.
Tragically, Gulotta’s close friend lost his life during her junior year of college in 2012.
“I was left with only letters and poems he had written in the last week of his life that depicted how insecure he was,’’ says Gulotta, who hopes to raise awareness about how bullying affects people by sharing their story. “After this devastating blow of losing my best friend, I channeled my sadness into an even greater resolve to be able to give people a voice and the ability to communicate.’’
Gulotta was recently awarded the 2013 Von Drach Memorial Scholarship by the Pennsylvania Speech-Language-Hearing Association (PSHA) at the 54th annual convention in Harrisburg. The 2013 award marks the sixth straight year a Misericordia University SLP student has received the $1,000 scholarship, awarded annually to an outstanding student from one of Pennsylvania’s 14 SLP schools in honor of Dr. Robert Von Drach. It is given to a student who exhibits strong leadership abilities, outstanding academic performance, exceptional clinical skills and scholarship within the profession.
At Misericordia, Gulotta has been a member of the department’s National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association (NSSLHA) since 2009 and the Pennsylvania Speech-Language-Hearing Association NSSLHA Chapter since 2009.
She has also maintained a 4.0 grade point average in her academic studies, while also gaining clinical experience at the Misericordia University Speech-Language and Hearing Center on campus and at the Wyoming Valley Children’s Association in Forty Fort where she received real-world clinical experience working with children with special needs, developmental delays, hearing impairment, autism spectrum disorders and multiple disabilities.
“In my graduate fluency class, Mary developed a stuttering treatment game that incorporated various aspects of stuttering. We plan to test this game in our clinic (the Speech-Language and Hearing Center) with children who stutter. Mary once mentioned to me, ‘I was not satisfied with the games that were available for young children so I decided to design one myself,’” said Glen Tellis, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Speech-Language Pathology at Misericordia University.
“The more I become emerged in the field of speech-language pathology, the more my interest for it grows,’’ says Gulotta. “I have come to value clinical treatment as an art form, but realize that I need to merge science into the art form to achieve appropriate clinical results. Each client I receive is a new challenge where individualistic plans are created and implemented to fit both the needs and motivational factors of each client.
“No other experience gives me the joy of knowing that I played a role in helping individuals learn how to communicate effectively,’’ she adds.
Gulotta also was accepted recently to Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center for an adult fieldwork placement for the fall semester.