College of Education

CSUMB speech program restores voice to a community in need

Sophia Capdevila helps Mike Ware identify words from pictures on her laptop

Speech-language pathology master's student Sophia Capdevila, right, helps Mike Ware identify words from pictures on her laptop. | Photo by Mark Muckenfuss

December 13, 2023

By Mark Muckenfuss

Chuck Martin was unwrapping a white elephant gift during a recent speech-language pathology program session at Cal State Monterey Bay’s North Salinas campus. As he pulled white tissue paper from a gift bag, he peered inside to identify its contents. 

“It looks like a Santa Claus,” he said when he could see part of the object. But when he pulled it from the bag, the short figure’s beard trailed to its feet and it wore a tall cone-shaped hat covering its eyes. “This is a troll,” he said. 

Several other people around the table where Martin was sitting suggested that it was a gnome. 

“I think you could call it a troll,” he insisted. 

The exchange was part of an exercise in word-finding and object-identification. In the free adult language clinic, students in the master’s degree program work with clients, such as Martin, who have communication difficulties. Most have had a stroke, suffered a traumatic brain injury, are battling dementia or, perhaps, have a brain tumor. They often struggle to find the word they wish to use or they use a different word than intended. 

These adult sessions are only one aspect of the program. Students do practicums in a variety of settings, working with both adults and children in clinics, hospitals and elementary schools. The work in the schools is largely focused on improving speech and expressing thoughts and feelings, language comprehension, and social communication. 

Kerrie Chitwood is the director of the program. She said it is badly needed in Monterey County. 

Language recovery following a stroke or brain injury is possible,” Chitwood said, “but it may take many years. In our community, there are few avenues available for long-term recovery therapy.”

The master’s program began in 2022. The first cohort of students is due to graduate this Friday, Dec. 15. 

“It’s a little bit of mixed emotions,” Chitwood said, admitting she will miss working with the inaugural group. “I’m super proud of them. They’re ready to join the profession and start working.”

Because there is a demand for such clinicians, she said, “all of our students are finding employment and many are receiving offers with their preferred organizations.”

Clinical education coordinator Maria Flores said she thinks the students will make a difference.
“The impact this cohort will have on our community is huge,” she said. “The need is huge. We pride ourselves on the experience we have been able to give our students to meet those needs.” 

Chitwood came to CSUMB in 2014 after working at UC Davis’ Mind Institute while earning her doctorate at that university. 

“The [CSUMB] program was a long time in the making,” she said. 

And it is still in the making. The program is provisionally accredited and will seek full accreditation in 2025. Two cohorts first have to graduate before officials can make their final application. And how those students perform on their certification exams is a critical factor in the success of that application. 

Sofia Capdevila is part of the second cohort, which will graduate next summer. 

"We knew coming in there would be some pressure,” said Capdevila, who earned her bachelor’s degree at Cal State San Marcos. “Our scores on the Praxis will help determine the accreditation.”

Of the 23 students in the first cohort readying for graduation, 22 have passed the exam, Chitwood said, which is slightly above the national average. 

Capdevila said she is confident she’s receiving the training she needs. 

“The program is doing its due diligence,” she said.

Capdevila’s classmate Tori Heninger is a graduate of Utah State. She said she chose CSUMB’s graduate program because of its mission goals, which include diversity, a holistic approach and giving back to the community. She also likes the fact that Chitwood and her staff actively seek the input of the students in evaluating and making changes in the curriculum.

“I like being able to inform the program,” Heninger said. “They’ve listened to what we thought would be helpful.”

Both she and Capdevila said they are likely to remain in the region once they graduate. 

The community, Heninger said, “has made a mark on me. I hope to make a mark similarly.” 

In addition to the therapy for clients, the program also provides a Caregivers Cafe, a support group for primary caregivers. Linda Ware said having a place to share her experiences and find new strategies as she cares for her husband Mike – who had a paralyzing stroke two years ago – is important to her.

“It has been very beneficial for me,” Ware said. 

Mike was initially in a wheelchair after his stroke. He now walks on his own and Linda said his ability to find the words he wants to use has improved since he began coming to the CSUMB program in the spring. She estimated his progress as moving from a score of 2 to a 5 on a scale of 10.  

“I’m doing OK,” Mike agreed. “I can do stuff now that I couldn’t two years ago.”

On Capdevlia’s laptop screen, Mike looked at a row of images as Capdevila asked him a holiday-themed question.

“What’s a good gift to give someone who likes to cook?”

Mike pointed to a picture of two crossed utensils. 

“This one here, what’s it called?” he said.

Capdevila guided him: “It looks like a spat …”

“Spatula!” Mike said, before trying to identify the second utensil. “And a furb … I don’t know.”

“A fork?”


“Great,” Capdevila said. “Anybody, what else could you give someone who likes to cook?” 

Chuck Martin smiled. “A troll,” he said, drawing a long laugh and easy smiles from everyone else in the room. 

Those interested in receiving services in the positive therapeutic environment of the CSUMB Speech-Language Pathology Adult Language Clinic can email or call 831-772-7050.