Thomas Shull, '08
Speech-language pathologist, Boston Public Schools
Q. What are you currently working on?
I’m a first-year speech-language pathologist for the Boston Public Schools. The work is more challenging than I could ever have imagined. Having good communication skills is essential to every aspect of my job. This is the hardest job I’ve ever faced, but more than any other, it offers the greatest opportunity to positively affect the lives of others.
I’ve been working on a new website for people who use Cued Speech, a communication system used with and among people who are deaf. The new site will offer games, blogs, resources, and ways to get feedback on your skills. I developed the site with a deaf friend of mine from MIT. We worked on it while I got my master’s and he got his Ph.D. It’s been a huge undertaking, but a true labor of love. It will launch this year.
This summer, I will teach seminars for the Cued Speech Association UK at Bicton College in England. The subject will be communication strategies for children who are deaf, and my students will be parents and professionals. I may also do some consulting work near Venice on the Italian adaptation of Cued Speech.
Q. Could you describe one person, experience, or series of events at Emerson that shifted the course of your career and that illustrates one of Emerson’s core attributes of creativity, collaboration, risk taking, and excellence?
Every school boasts an excellent faculty. I attended a dozen colleges before I landed at Emerson. I can tell you that Emerson professors are the best. They are comfortable to let people learn in their own way and are willing to task risks in front of a classroom. Emerson professors do not try to pour knowledge into their students; they navigate ideas with their students as co-contributors. I never felt like an audience member in an Emerson classroom. We all brought something to the table. My classmates’ experiences were part of the course content.
Q. Is there an example of how a classmate aided you with your career?
Tamika LeRay ’09, MS ’11, and I were undergraduate classmates in the CSD program. Tamika is focused. She is one of those students who digs deep, looks for connections, and finds the positive. Tamika and I discussed ideas in and out of the classroom. I never felt like learning at Emerson College was between me and a book. Ideas were alive—something to be debated, dismantled, and shared. My classmates inspired me. They made scholarly pursuits look cool.
My professors looked at me as an individual. Shelley Lipschultz was my advisor and professor. She spent just as much time listening as she did talking. She always looks for the connections that fit her students. She improvises analogies and is comfortable pursuing that “teachable moment.” She has kept in touch with me and we meet from time to time to catch up. The transition from professor to colleague was seamless because Shelley treats her students with such respect. I have continued to learn from her long after my graduation.
Q. Are you professionally connected to other Emersonians?
Many of my classmates pursued specialized topics in addition to their general practice. In a way, I have constant access to a think tank for speech and language questions. If I need to know about devices people use for communication, Emily McFadd ’08 (current grad student at University of Wisconsin) knows the answer. If you have a question about African American English, ask Tamika LeRay. She has studied and researched with the best in that field.
Q. What’s the single most important piece of advice you’d like to give to Emerson students?
Emerson revels in the unusual, offbeat, and innovative. It specializes in individuality. I’ve pursued many different interests in my life (film and television, writing, teaching, speech and language). To the observer, it may look like I was unfocused, but it’s because I developed these skills that I am able to synthesize them to attack problems in a unique way. Seeking connections that no one else has made doesn’t make you unfocused; it makes you an innovator.