For Melaney Grenz, MS ’99 Communication Disorders and Sciences, the mentorship that she received from teachers and professors gave her the confidence to pursue her dream and become a speech pathologist. Now, having spent over twenty years in the field, she mentors current students in the program, passing on the legacy of those who helped her achieve her dreams.
Melaney was inspired to work with children because of her sixth-grade teacher Mrs. Kelly. “My sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Kelly, absolutely changed my life. I grew up in a very humble environment. Both my parents were high school dropouts. There were a lot of things stacked against me in life. She invested a lot of time in me. That’s why I am where I am and have the confidence that I do.”
When Melaney came to the UO, McKay Sohlberg, PhD, became her advisor. Support from McKay and other professors at the COE helped Melaney persevere through academic challenges. “I remember taking a statistics class and I was absolutely stumped on a couple of projects. The professors didn’t belittle or berate me. They would ask what I needed. Roland Good, PhD, came to the computer lab with me and walked me through a project. He wanted me to succeed, but he wasn’t going to do the project for me. That’s a testimony to what a fabulous educator he was. The mentors that we are fortunate to meet in our lives, the McKay Sohlbergs and the Mrs. Kelly’s, take the time to mold the next generation to truly leave a legacy.”
Melaney would have struggled financially if not for a life-changing scholarship. “I got an amazing, full-ride scholarship to the UO. That was a gift, because my parents couldn’t afford tuition. It changed the trajectory of my life.”
The scholarship Melaney received required working in local schools with low-socioeconomic status. She worked in the Lebanon School District to fulfill the requirement. She praised the variety of practicum options available to CDS students and the professors’ practical experience in the field. “There were so many options. You can go to Oregon Health Sciences University; you can go to the veterans’ hospitals. That’s on-the-job training. You see gunshot wounds coming in. You see rare genetic syndromes coming through the door. Every day, it’s like nothing you learned before. I also appreciate that my professors had videos of clients that they had worked with. I think sometimes people think professors don’t have any practical world life experience, but I didn’t see that at the UO. Everybody had real life experiences. They gave me these wonderful tools to help me when I went out in the field.”
When Melaney graduated in 1999, work found her. She was approached to start a private practice, and continues that practice to this day, 21 years later. She has taken on other roles as well, working in local schools and at the UO Center on Brain Injury Research and Training as a project manager.
Melaney is troubled by the lack of teachers and speech pathologists in the field and wants to encourage students to pursue those career paths. “Many teachers have left the field. Being an educator is an amazing and rewarding occupation. We need lifelong teachers that are invested and dedicated. I want to attract people that are invested in kids.”
Melaney speaks to graduate students in the CDS program about their career opportunities post-graduation and serves as a mentor. She wants to encourage those students to think holistically about the field. “What I wanted to impart to the graduate students was that you need to work as a team member. How do we look outside our box and find the things that are going to help this kid succeed?”
Her emphasis on a team approach to clinical service comes directly from McKay, who required that Melaney take a counseling class to understand how other disciplines are important to patient care. She was initially skeptical but learned to approach her work in a different way. “It was one of the greatest classes I ever took. My approach to counseling a patient had been to approach it as a problem that you could solve. Not everybody processes the same way.”
Melaney praises the opportunities available at the HEDCO Clinic to collaborate with other practicum students and learn about other services offered there. “I appreciate bringing together all the disciplines together in the HEDCO Clinic. Ultimately, you’re going to have to work together on a team, whether that’s medical, school, or private. We all collaborate on what this patient needs.”
After decades of service in the field, you might think Melaney would be ready to retire, but she is instead seeking to have a greater impact, whether through her efforts at mentoring students, her work as a regional liaison for the Oregon Department of Education’s Regional Inclusive Services, or her advocacy for disabled students in Oregon. “I don’t see the day that I leave speech pathology. I will probably work a little less and work on my golf game a little more, but I’ll never give up speech pathology.”