Alumna Haley Willis is helping advance the field of speech-language pathology in Chico by bringing multiple services under one roof, offering services lacking in the city, and opening doors for aspiring therapists.

She is the CEO and founder of Advantage Therapy Services in Chico. Her office specializes in neurogenic communication disorders—an area that before the opening of her business was not previously well supported by local practices—and has adopted a multidisciplinary approach to better serve patients.

Willis (Communication Sciences and Disorders, ’14; MA, Communication Sciences and Disorders, ’16) and her husband, Rylan Willis, a physical therapist, opened Advantage Therapy Services in May 2021 with the mission to offer both speech therapy and physical therapy to clients of all ages.

Willis was 15 years old when she knew she wanted to pursue a career as a speech-language pathologist, she said. It was then that her grandmother, who was diagnosed with dementia and had a stroke, ended up needing specialized care. Watching a speech therapist work with her grandmother inspired her.

“Right then I said, ‘This is what I want to do,’” said Willis.

Throughout her career, Willis has helped open doors and offer experiential learning opportunities to aspiring speech pathologists. She has been a faculty member in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders (CMSD) since August 2021.

“When we moved back to Chico in 2019, I immediately wanted to get involved with Chico State because I have a passion for teaching and helping students learn and grow in the field of speech pathology,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to the opportunity to become part of the faculty and staff at Chico State because I love the CMSD program.”

This month, Willis will be honored as the 2023 Distinguished Alumna of the College of Communication and Education.

Willis lives in Chico with her husband Rylan Willis and her 2-year-old daughter Savannah. 

What does it mean to you to receive this award from Chico State? 

It means a lot to me because I was part of the CMSD program with these same professors when I was an undergraduate and then in the master’s program. So, to be able to teach at Chico State and work right alongside them, and now be nominated for this award, it has just been so wonderful and so surprising. I feel so honored that they would even consider me because I hold the CMSD program in such high regard.

I’m just so honored to be receiving this award. It is such a wonderful opportunity, and I can’t thank everybody enough who nominated me. I feel so grateful.

What would you consider your top personal and career highlight?

A top personal highlight would be starting a family—I have a two-year-old and that has just been awesome.

As far as a career highlight, taking that step to start the practice. Leaving my previous hospital job and starting on my own was a big step. I’m proud that I made that decision.

How do you shake things up and create positive change in your work today?  

As far as the business side goes, using a multidisciplinary and individualized approach to help our patients grow in ways they want to grow, and finding functional solutions that work for an individual rather than taking the same approach with every client. We see big positive impacts in each of our patients’ lives.

At Chico State, I am so happy I can support the students and help them with big decisions, like deciding to pursue a master’s program or recommending internships. I currently have student volunteers who can come to Advantage Therapy Services if they want to help make therapy materials or get more experience before they go to grad school. They can gain varied skills and learn about different aspects of the career on an up-close-and-personal level.

Is there a person, class, or aspect of your experience at Chico State that put you on a path to success? 

There was one specific professor who was an inspiration. She has since retired but her name is Dr. Shelley Von Berg. She taught a lot of the adult-based and neuro classes, especially in the master’s program. I was going to take any cool opportunity that she had for me. I was able to present with her at the California Speech Language and Hearing Association conference, as well as help with a Parkinson’s support group in Redding, and I got to work with her in the adult language group at Chico State. I just learned so much from her and she instilled the passion for speech therapy that I have now. She was a huge influence in making me the speech therapist that I am today.