Cura Personalis: Janet Simon Schreck, ’91, M.S. ’93

By Courtney Jolley  |  Photo by Cory Donovan

When Janet Simon Schreck was a student at the Catholic High School of Baltimore, she chose Loyola thinking that its relatively small size and Catholic identity would offer her the same support and personal attention she had known as a student in Maryland’s Catholic K-12 schools. “I believed the faculty would take an interest in me. I wouldn’t get lost, I wouldn’t be a number,” she said.

She was right.

Twenty-five years, two Loyola degrees, and a variety of different positions within the University later, Schreck, ’91, M.S. ’93, now serves her alma mater as executive director of the Loyola Clinical Centers (LCC), which offers graduate student training, interdisciplinary client services, and research programs focused on the areas of  psychology, pastoral counseling, literacy, hearing, and speech-language pathology. A speech-language pathologist by vocation, Schreck balances her leadership of the LCC with work on her Ph.D. in Gerontology, which she expects to complete at the University of Maryland in June 2013.

How did you become interested in speech-language pathology?

I actually started as a biology major. I thought I was going to be pre-med. But chemistry…chemistry was rough. I met with my core advisor, a Jesuit. He listened as I talked about how I wanted to help people and work in a hospital setting. He asked if I had ever thought about speech pathology. He introduced me to John Sloan, who was director of the speech clinic at the time. I took one class and was hooked. It was such a welcoming department, housed in the basement of Newman Towers. They supported me when my mom had a heart attack when I was a sophomore. They also helped me to get the hospital placements I wanted so I could work on the medical side of speech-language pathology, with adults who had had brain injuries and strokes.

Was it an easy decision for you to enroll at Loyola right away as a full-time speech-language pathology master’s student?

I almost didn’t come to Loyola—I had another offer from another university that had its own hospital and could provide financial aid that Loyola couldn’t. But they couldn’t promise me the opportunity to work with the caliber of faculty I knew I’d have at Loyola—people who knew me and had pushed me, and who I knew would continue to challenge me.

After finishing your master’s, you took a full-time clinical position  nearby, but maintained your ties to Loyola.

I did. Loyola created a clinical fellowship for me. I was able to work under a supervisor in the evenings to continue some research we had started on adults with learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Somewhere along the way I started teaching individual classes. Then I was at Loyola half-time. Then full-time in 1999. For a few years, I worked on-call at a retirement community and several local hospitals just to keep my foot in the door. I think it’s really valuable for our students to have teachers who are practicing clinicians. It’s why I didn’t jump into my Ph.D. right away. Some of my best teachers were those who had real-life clinical experience they could bring into the classroom.

As director, do you miss working directly with clients?

I didn’t at first—there’s a burnout factor you experience with direct clinical provision. And in supervising students, I still got to connect with clients in a more energizing way, through the joy of teaching students. Now, in my administrative role, I miss the client interaction horribly. The responsibilities of being director grew as the LCC grew, and the teaching and related client interaction just never happened. But I have a whole new skillset I never would have developed otherwise—budgeting, strategic planning, working with donors. I do feel a bit removed from our students and clients—and on the days it really gets to me, I walk the waiting room, introduce myself, and get a chance to connect with them.

When you started working on your Ph.D., why did you decide on gerontology as opposed to speech-language pathology?

Gerontology offers a broader context for considering the biological and psychosocial issues that older adults face. I chose gerontology based on my earlier experiences in nursing homes—which ultimately affected me to the point I couldn’t work in them anymore. With my Jesuit background, the condition of the homes, and the way people are treated didn’t sit well with me. I thought I’d be in a better position to effect change with a more interdisciplinary program. My dissertation is a mixed methods—quantitative and qualitative—study of marital satisfaction in couples where one spouse has chronic aphasia—an impairment of language ability due to stroke. Our health care system focuses on the  patient,  not on the couple, and overlooks the responsibilities of caregiving and the impact of caregiving and communication impairment on marriage.

And at the same time, you’re working to grow and strengthen the LCC, to expand its partnerships and extend its services.

Our relationships with the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp., York Road Partnership, and Govanstowne Business Association have been crucial to our growth in Belvedere Square in Baltimore, and most of our referrals have come from the relationships we’ve built with pastors, school principals, and counselors in the area. Relationships with community organizations have played a similarly important role in our presence in Howard County, Md. In addition to expanding our footprint in Belvedere Square with a 50,000-square-foot expansion of our facility, we’re also looking to expand our services in areas where we see both a training and service need. Most notably, we’re developing new services for adults with brain injury and brain disorders, a growing concern with the aging, Baby Boomer population. People are surviving longer and longer with these chronic conditions, and their caregivers don’t want to put them in nursing homes. The other area is social skills development in children and adolescents. We’re seeing more and more children, many without particular diagnoses, who are struggling to manage interpersonal relationships. We don’t work with insurance companies or other third-party payers, but we do offer a sliding fee scale for all our services, so we’re able to fill a gap and provide services people might not be able to get to otherwise.

Looking back on what you learned about the Jesuits as an undergraduate, and how your understanding of it has evolved in the years since, how do you see the LCC’s work fitting in to Loyola’s mission?

We have an ability to change lives, to change society, through the University and to plant a seed in students where, when they see something that is not right—they know they have to do something about it. One of the core tenets of Jesuit education is taking that broad intellectual base of knowledge and applying it to real-world problems, and the LCC is an ideal place to do that.

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