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Chico State

Hands-on Learning Helps Mold Graduate Student into SLP She Wants to Be

Student Sierra Bowling smiles as she poses with her hands holding her gray jacket in front of a beige backdrop with the outline of a window in the background.
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

In the coming weeks, we will be celebrating the accomplishments and stories behind 2024’s Lt. Rawlins Merit Scholarship Recipients. The award—one of the largest and most prestigious at Chico State—celebrates scholarship, extracurricular activities, and outstanding academic, and professional accomplishments.

For Sierra Bowling, what started as a teenage interest in speech and public speaking has turned into a career goal of helping others find their voice. 

Bowling (Communication Sciences and Disorders, ’23) fell in love with the field of speech-language pathology (SLP) when she shadowed an SLP during her junior year of high school. She knew then she wanted to help people, especially children, gain the ability to communicate. 

Currently a graduate student, Bowling said the hands-on learning she’s gained in the CMSD program, especially her work in the Clinic for Communication Disorders this past fall, has solidified her decision and boosted her confidence.  

“I feel completely transformed,” she said. “Being able to practice with clients has been impactful, and I’m so grateful for the opportunity. The clients I’ve had have shaped me into the SLP I’m going to be, and it’s been a great experience.” 

Besides being a remarkable student—Bowling is in the top 1% in her three classes with Professor Jessika Lawrence—she is an exceptional person, dedicating many hours to volunteering as a tutor and mentor, and participating in awareness events, Lawrence said. 

“She is also a natural leader and has excelled in leadership roles across contexts including university and community,” said Lawrence, program director for CMSD.   

Professor Kenyan Martin, director of the Clinic for Communication Disorders, said Bowling has excellent potential for her future career as an SLP. 

“She is extremely motivated and hardworking,” Martin said. “I appreciate Sierra’s willingness to contribute meaningfully and thoughtfully during class. 

“She holds herself to high standards and is a model student to her peers.” 

Why did you choose Chico State? 

I chose to further my education at Chico State and continue into the grad program because I feel a strong connection to the community. I love the genial atmosphere of the CMSD program. I’ve created so many lifelong friends and people who I consider my family now. 

What does this scholarship mean to you and what will it allow you to accomplish? 

I am grateful and honored to have been selected as a recipient of the Rawlins Merit Award. It has brought me one step closer to my goal of becoming a speech-language pathologist. 

The scholarship has definitely eased the financial burden of graduate school, which allows me to focus on becoming the best SLP I can be. I don’t have to take out as many loans. It’s been a huge help because I’m also working, and (the scholarship) has allowed me to balance both my work and my school life. The scholarship has already made a huge impact, and it will continue to do so next semester, and I’m so grateful for that. 

What programs or people have made a difference in your educational journey? 

I would say the CAVE (Community Action Volunteers in Education) program, the College Corps program, as well as the CMSD faculty, have each made a difference in my educational journey and have brought me to where I am today. These programs and people have shaped me into who I am and what I stand for. I’m a more confident student and person because of them.  

The (CAVE and College Corps) programs have specifically helped to shape me and to shape my values and have connected me within the community, which has been great for me, especially as a transfer student, not knowing the Chico area. Being able to volunteer and do these outreach programs has allowed me to really strengthen my ties to Chico.  

The CMSD professors have made me so passionate about the field. I came into the field with a lot of passion, but now I’m even more excited about the future. 

What opportunities to gain hands-on working experience have you been exposed to during your time at Chico State?  

I had the opportunity last year to be a part of California’s first cohort of (#CaliforniansForAll) College Corps fellows. And as a fellow, I supported our community in the areas of K-12, education, climate action, and food security as well. My host site was the Chico Boys and Girls Club, which is an amazing organization that supports the youth and families of Chico.  

I also did the CAVE program at Chico State, where I received the opportunity to volunteer in a kindergarten classroom at Citrus Elementary School. I assisted with planning and organizing activities and was also a mentor to the students. I was a part of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association, which is specifically for CMSD students, and I was secretary of that club. We did activities like the Walk to End Alzheimer’s and the Little Red Hen’s Autism Carnival, which were community outreach events specifically for those populations. It was great to see people in the community come together for those causes and to spread awareness for them.