Skip to Content

### Enhanced Clinical Experience for Communication Sciences and Disorders Students with Project FOCUS

A recent partnership with Project FOCUS in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD) is granting graduate students a distinctive chance to gain clinical exposure while supporting fellow students.

Project FOCUS (Focused, Organizing, Coaching Undergraduates for Success) offers executive function coaching to teach students personalized coping mechanisms for stress, anxiety, and executive function management crucial for academic and personal triumph.

The program consists of ten sessions aimed at equipping clients, both from UCF and other institutions, with the tools and knowledge necessary to reach their educational and personal objectives. In Fall 2023, five CSD graduate students commenced their roles in the program, acting as coaches and delivering cognitive therapy to participants under clinical faculty supervision. Each student works with up to four clients.

During this spring, another group of four CSD graduate students is actively supporting Project FOCUS.

While executive function challenges may arise from various factors, they are not limited to neurodivergent conditions. Many student clients engaging in the program are neurotypical individuals striving to enhance their organizational skills. Project FOCUS leverages neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to adapt to stimuli and learning—to facilitate the acquisition of new habits and behaviors. Research conducted at UCF indicates that students with executive function difficulties who engage in Project FOCUS coaching services exhibit an 80% improvement in performance.

Kelly David ’08 ’13MA, a Clinical Instructor at the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, emphasizes the unparalleled opportunity this program provides for CSD graduate students. These students are mandated to complete 400 hours of patient care across various clinical domains, including cognition, to fulfill degree requirements. Additionally, students gain clinical exposure through specialized programs like [ppp1] and the Intensive Comprehensive Aphasia Program at [ppp2].

The student clinicians participating in Project FOCUS witness firsthand the impact of executive dysfunction on academics and employment. They collaborate with their clients to develop and implement compensatory strategies focusing on enhancing skills such as time management, organization, and problem-solving. Weekly check-ins ensure accountability and offer insights into the effectiveness of these strategies. By tailoring their approach to each student, the student clinicians apply their knowledge in a personalized manner, yielding positive feedback from both parties involved.

While students in the Communication Disorders Clinic typically establish goals at the beginning of a 16-week semester, Project FOCUS offers a more dynamic environment. Here, student clinicians work with clients weekly to set new goals targeting executive functioning skills, gradually transferring ownership of goal setting and accountability to the clients.

Kiera Anderson ’22PhD, a research associate at the Toni Jennings Exceptional Education Institute, serves as the program manager for Project FOCUS, overseeing the training of student clinicians in delivering coaching services. She highlights that student clinicians learn techniques to help individuals compensate for executive function deficits, strengthen these skills, and cultivate therapeutic relationships with clients, skills applicable across various fields.

The CSD students engaged in Project FOCUS gain a unique perspective on client interaction in a non-traditional clinical setting. Throughout a semester, they guide their student clients through tasks such as meal planning, homework prioritization, task management, and relationship building, all while focusing on enhancing the cognitive functions underlying these activities.

Most student clinicians involved in the project aspire to become speech-language pathologists. Graduate student Stephanie Roque acknowledges the impact of this experience on her future career, emphasizing the importance of active listening and leveraging individual strengths to motivate clients towards their goals. This coaching concept underscores the significance of fostering a supportive environment for individuals and families they will work with in the future.

Heather Marsden, a student clinician in the Fall 2023 program, notes how the experience honed her skills for her future role as a speech-language pathologist and allowed her to witness the tangible progress in the students she coached. The program’s emphasis on empowering student clients to steer their own development ensures their success beyond their participation in Project FOCUS. This client-centered approach is a valuable lesson that student clinicians will carry forward in their careers.

The essence of humanity lies in the unique qualities each individual possesses, and Project FOCUS serves as a testament to this belief. Through collaborative exploration, students’ interests are harnessed to introduce, implement, and adapt strategies that can continue benefiting their lives post-program. This enduring impact underscores the program’s significance and the profound difference it makes in the lives of those involved.