East Tennessee State University graduate student Carolina Thur de Koos graduated from Johnson City’s Science Hill High School and then, over a period of nearly 10 years, worked her way back home.
After receiving her bachelor’s degree at Furman University, Thur de Koos spent a year teaching English in Spain. When she returned to the U.S., she worked in Florida for four years, before deciding to apply to ETSU for graduate work. “ETSU has excellent clinical options,” she says, and I was missing the mountains and the fall season. When I was accepted at ETSU, I was excited about coming home.”
Now enrolled in the ETSU Communicative Disorders master’s program, Thur de Koos says, “The clinical placements I’ve had have all been really great learning experiences. I am currently at the Johnson City Medical Center, and I love it. I have done a lot of evaluation and treatment for dysphagia (swallowing disorders) and Passy-Muir Valve placement. This device allows people who have tracheostomies to speak, along with other benefits. It is inspiring to see patients and their family members hear their voices again.”
Thur de Koos leaped at an opportunity to apply for a grant through the Fund for the Improvement of Post-Secondary Education, administered by the U.S. Department of Education. The grant funded coursework, a research project and a six-week exchange to Brazil. Thur de Koos explains, “I am bilingual in English and Spanish. I grew up speaking Spanish with my family, and I have a strong desire to use my Spanish language skills in my career.” To her linguistic arsenal, Thur de Koos quickly picked up Portuguese in Brazil.
She says, “I completed a research project with students in Iowa and Brazil. I was able to see how Speech-Language Pathologists in Brazil work with patients who have cleft lip or palate and craniofacial anomalies. Brazil impacted the way I want to work in my career. Inter-professional teamwork was emphasized and all of the different health care professionals worked well together. I made very good friends as we showed one another our countries.”
Now, Thur de Koos welcomes students from Brazil who take part in the exchange program. She has served as a liaison for three Brazilian students who came to ETSU last year and three more this year, making certain that they experience as much of America as possible. “My family is local, so they help, too,” she explains. “I drive the visitors on errands in town, take them out to dinner and drive them to the airport.” But her involvement doesn’t stop there. “The girls have never seen snow, so we went snowboarding. Other times, we went to the beach in South Carolina, had an Oscar party, invited them to Easter lunch and attended a rodeo. They should experience all they can while they are here.”
Her next step will be finding a clinical fellowship for up to a year to give her the training necessary to obtain a clinical license. She notes, “I would like the opportunity to work with adults in an acute or rehabilitative setting, where there are opportunities to work on language, cognition, and my favorite, dysphagia.”
She adds, “My best experience so far was working with a gentleman at the Quillen VA Medical Center. His attitude and motivation were inspiring. This experience helped me realize I should never take for granted the fact that I can speak clearly and eat whatever I want.”