Swallowing Physiology and Rehabilitation Research

My name is Lauren Falter, and I am a graduate student at Kent State studying Speech-Language Pathology. I recently earned my undergraduate degree from Kent State with a major in Speech Pathology and Audiology and two minors in Autism Spectrum Disorders and Special Education.

Lauren with her friends at the KSU arch

I reflect positively on my time at Kent State and as a student researcher in the Swallowing Physiology and Rehabilitation Research (SPARR) Laboratory on campus. 

Throughout high school, I pondered careers with educational and medical focuses, and I found the field of Speech-Language Pathology to be the perfect mix of the two. As I prepared for college, I valued proximity to my family and a cohort-size that would allow me to form relationships with professors and become involved.

The proximity, medium-sized and beautiful campus, respected Speech Pathology and Audiology program, and various extracurricular opportunities confirmed my interest in attending Kent State.

I started my freshman year in August of 2020, during the pandemic, when many opportunities were altered or limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Though virtually, I became involved in Operation Smile and held executive positions for the Residence Engagement Council and the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association. 

Lauren posing for photo

Additionally, being a member of the Honors College allowed me to take additional courses that challenged my thinking and enhanced my understanding of course material. A year later, campus began to “reopen,” and so did many of the research labs. The Speech Pathology and Audiology program has many on-campus research labs, and I felt the SPARR Laboratory, with its medical focus, would allow me to explore an aspect of practice that most interested me.

This rewarding opportunity has shaped my undergraduate experience and confirmed my passion for the field of Speech-Language Pathology. 

The close supervision of Dr. Ali Barikroo in the SPARR Laboratory has allowed me to gain hands-on experience in two studies, prepare for graduate school, and strengthen my understanding of coursework, such as anatomy and physiology.

As a research assistant, I was directly involved in collecting and extracting data on the effects of transcutaneous electrical stimulation on oral moisture and structural timing and displacement. Ultimately, we want to know how an electrical current can strengthen the muscles or stimulate the salivary glands to help those with dysphagia, or swallowing difficulties, improve their swallowing function. 

Many individuals are surprised to know that speech-language pathologists work with individuals, such as infants, to learn to safely swallow, or adults, to regain their swallowing abilities. The practice is guided by research, as clinicians use research-supported, effective treatments to best serve their clients.

My favorite experience in the SPARR Laboratory was seeing and analyzing Modified Barium Swallow studies, where a live X-Ray video captures an individual’s swallow of contrasted, resulting from the barium, food or liquid. 

SPARR Lab group photo

During the Summer Undergraduate Research Experience, I extracted the data of this study, and I analyzed how fast and to where the swallowing structures moved. I have since completed a 3-minute thesis presentation that analyzes the results of extraction. Additionally, during my final semester in the lab, I continued to collect and extract data on transcutaneous electrical stimulation and its effect on spontaneous swallowing frequency.

I am grateful for the guidance of Dr. Ali Barikroo, the knowledge I have gained, and the close relationships I have formed with the graduate assistants and other student researchers in the SPARR Laboratory.

Confidently, I feel Kent State has prepared me for graduate school, academia and my prospective career.

From living in the dorms, being involved in extracurriculars, and taking challenging courses, I have felt supported by my resident assistants, supervisors, advisors and professors. Because of my positive undergraduate experience, I will continue graduate school at Kent State in the combined bachelor’s to master’s program to become a pediatric speech-language pathologist within a hospital setting. 

Kent State has many exceptional opportunities, such as a practicing on-campus clinic, study abroad to Brazil focused on Autism Spectrum Disorders, and graduate assistantships, all of which will prepare me to be a successful speech-language pathologist. 

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POSTED: Saturday, January 8, 2022 10:19 AM
UPDATED: Monday, January 09, 2023 08:56 AM
Lauren Falter