By MARTY LEVINE
Ali Lewandowski came to Pitt in September to teach the course that once changed her own career path.
Lewandowski, now assistant professor and director of the undergraduate program in communication science in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, enrolled in Pitt for dentistry as an undergrad. But hearing one lecture in the Introduction to Speech Language Pathology class convinced her that helping people re-tool their voice should be her lifelong pursuit.
Her work has since encompassed everything from voice disorders — from birth, injury or illness — to helping with overuse (from speaking or singing) to foreign accent modification and gender-affirming voice training.
“The best part of the field,” she says, is that “there are many options. Everyone I graduated with is doing something completely different.”
After completing her master’s degree from Pitt in speech-language pathology in 2015, Lewandowski joined the UPMC Voice Center, working to rehab people’s voices under all sorts of circumstances.
“Every single voice is different from person to person, and how they use it,” she says. Today she is still a clinical supervisor at the Voice Center once a week. A voice issue is never isolated, she says: “It’s really a quality-of-life thing — a voice disorder is characterized by how it affects the person.”
But she has long loved teaching and mentoring graduate students, and when the chance came to move to Pitt to do more teaching, she felt, “I’ve got to go for this.”
Today, working between the worlds of patients and students, she says, “the goals are very similar in how I relay information and we establish this common goal together — I’m using a lot of those clinical skills in how I instruct.” Currently, she also is teaching Clinical Methods in Communication Science Disorders.
As a Beaver County native with extended family in Pittsburgh, “I am actually trying to reduce my Pittsburghese,” she says. “I think it’s a beautiful accent, but others may disagree.”
It’s important not to look at foreign accent modification, she says, as “reducing or taking away the accent,” but rather as an effort to modify it when modification would help communication.
Gender-affirming voice training, she explains, is for anyone who feels that their voice is not in alignment with their identity, “to show people the flexibility their instrument has. The instrument itself has a lot of flexibility that people don’t know.”
At Pitt, she wants to show others the opportunities she saw in her chosen field: “I want to expand this major … making it well known and known earlier to students coming in. I’m trying to make this major and this field more accessible to more people,” such as social workers and teachers who could use this knowledge in their own work to improve people’s lives.
“Connecting with students on that level is always going to be the favorite part of my job,” she says. “I am really enjoying working with the students and helping them make decisions that will affect the rest of their lives.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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