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1997 COSD reunion
Class of 1997 Communication Sciences & Disorders spring cohort at Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences.

The speech-language pathology (SLP) spring cohort of 1997 returned to TCU to celebrate their 25-year reunion. The class reunited with some of their former professors who are still here: Lynn Flahive, M.S., Jennifer Watson, Ph.D., and Irmgard Payne, M.S. ’94, to reminisce. Before graduating, before email and before social media existed, the cohort created a VHS that captured their time at TCU and wrote a chain letter where one graduate wrote about what she was doing and then sent it off to the next person. This letter was rotated to keep up with each other. Although the letter chain did not last very long, their friendships remained strong.

Some remained in Fort Worth; others traveled to other parts of the U.S. and around the globe in pursuit of a career as a speech-language pathologist. In this first story, we learn about the experiences some of these extraordinary alumni had and where their degrees from TCU led them.

These are their stories.

Alissa Potocnik

Potocnik has worked in adult rehabilitation since graduation and is currently finishing her clinical doctorate in SLP to start an aphasia center. The day she stepped foot at Harris Methodist in Fort Worth during her medical placement, she knew she would work in the hospital setting after graduation. “The hospital felt like home to me,” said Potocnik. “I love the medical side of speech pathology.” She has worked in acute care for the same hospital system for the last 25 years. In 2019, Potocnik started a community aphasia group at her hospital. Today, the group meets weekly and hopes to expand in 2023. Potocnik said that while she believes Kansas City is home to many excellent hospitals, rehabilitation facilities and outpatient services, there is a service gap regarding ongoing regional aphasia services. She hopes to start a community-based center that would provide resources, education and a variety of aphasia groups for people and those affected by aphasia. She is currently pursuing her doctorate in at the University of Kansas Medical Center to learn how to make that dream a reality.

Korey Stading

Stading moved back to Omaha, NE and continues, since graduation, to work in the pediatric unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. The Munroe-Meyer Institute (MMI) is part of the University of Nebraska Medical Center where Stading helps provide outpatient services to children and adults with disabilities in the areas of physical, occupational and speech therapy, behavioral psychology services, recreational therapy and genetics. She was immediately after graduation and has worked there for the last 25 years. “I had an externship while I was at TCU at an outpatient therapy center working with children with more complex needs and I really enjoyed it,” said Stading. Her experience at TCU allowed her to specialize in Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) from the beginning, learning about different communication device options, how to complete AAC evaluations, train parents and families to use AAC devices and provide group therapy to preschool children utilizing AAC strategies. Throughout her years at MMI, Stading has worked in the areas of fluency therapy, pediatric inpatient therapy services for young transplant patients, therapy for children with motor speech disorders like Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) and providing assistive technology services for Omaha Public Schools. Additional research opportunities come with the connection to a university, allowing Stading to complete several research studies and present the results at national conventions. Stading also participates in student training by taking graduate students in the AAC preschool group to guest lecturing courses at the University of Nebraska in Omaha.

Lori Gorman

Gorman worked in a nursing unit in Fort Worth in the post-graduation was in a nursing unit before working with Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) in Tarrant County. After seven years, she moved to the school setting. Eventually, she returned to ECI, where she began splitting her time between ECI and a newer program in MHMR called the HOPES program (now called the Family Support Coaching program). Her focus is implementing and helping support families with a research-based parent training program specifically designed for young children that are showing signs or symptoms of autism or have autism. “Being able to teach families through this program has become my passion over the past few years,” said Gorman.

Raquel Rivera

After graduation, Rivera returned to her home in New York City and worked in a hospital in Manhattan. She commuted three hours by subway each day to an area where the population consisted of Hispanics and Blacks in low-income and section 8 housing. Being the only SLP, she worked with patients in the NICU, medicine, psychiatry, and inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation. Rivera was given the leeway to create programs leading her to establish preschooler language groups, a cognitive communication therapy group, a dysphagia therapy group, and a Modified Barium Swallow Study program with radiology, among others. All this while working in private practice with a colleague where she had her contracts in early intervention home-based, skilled nursing facilities and nursing homes. Today, Rivera lives in Phoenix and works with children aged 18 months to five years old, specifically those with bilingual and monolingual Spanish backgrounds. She completed the bilingual emphasis track.

Ann Marie Pinkenburg

Pinkenburg moved to Washington state after graduating, where she worked for five years. She knew it was time to move, but not back to Texas. After the long process of getting a work permit, lining up interviews and obtaining her English licensure, Pinkenburg was moving across the pond. “By the time I got on the plane, I was just so excited that it didn’t feel daunting to move to a new place where I didn’t know anybody,” said Pinkeburg. “It was just a big adventure! What was hard was putting everything I wanted to take with me into two suitcases.” She recalled the English people being very patient with her endless “cultural questions” and driving being such a challenge that it was three months before she could drive and have the radio on. The car there was a challenge. “I would drive around with my left hand making an ‘L’ on the steering wheel to remind me to stay on the left side of the road. On her first day of work, she remembers needing to get her name badge redone because, in England, only medical doctors are Pathologists and her position is Speech-Language Therapist.

Laura Tepner 

After graduation, Laura worked with the Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD). After working with FWISD, Laura enjoyed working with the Early Childhood Intervention of North Central Texas. This position allowed her more flexibility and time with their children as their family grew. As she grew up in Argentina, Laura and her husband always wanted to work overseas. “I never would have thought Saudi Arabia would be the place we chose,” Laura said. They had a friend who worked for the largest oil company in the world, Saudi Arabian Oil Co., which has its schools on four different compounds in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia. Her husband was hired as a special education teacher in Ras Tanura, and Laura was offered an SLP position at Dhahran Middle School. She recalls seeing the turquoise waters of the Arabian (Persian) Gulf from the front door of their house. “It was a great adventure that offered so many travel opportunities, experiences in a very different part of the world, and incredible friendships with people from literally everywhere,” said Laura. She recently moved back to Washington state and works with preschoolers in an early intervention program at a nonprofit organization.

Yuneska Vezzetti

After working for a school district, Vezzetti started a family and became a stay-at-home mom. “It was fun getting to practice what I had learned with my own five children, “said Vezzetti. Two have even chosen to be Horned Frogs, one is a 2020 graduate, and another is a current first-year student.

Nicole Lightsey

During her time at TCU, her husband began serving at a local church in west Fort Worth, where they remain. For 20 years, Lightsey worked in the local public schools and served students aged 3 to 21. She chose to stay at home with her two daughters in the early aughts but continued to use my degree and skills to serve a handful of students privately after school during some of that time. In Sept. of this year, she transitioned to a pediatric clinic where she works with children of all ages.

Coleen O’Brien

After graduate school, O’Brien worked for two years in Plano ISD before getting married. Once they began having children, she decided to be a stay-at-home mom. O’Brien helped start a Spanish program at their church preschool, Rainbow Days, at St. Jude Catholic Church in Allen, Texas. O’Brien taught preschool Spanish for 15 years, working part-time while raising their five children. When her oldest was in college, O’Brien’s husband encouraged her to return to her previous SLP career; in 2020, she went back to work full-time for the first time in 21 years. O’Brien now works for Frisco ISD teaching the Preschool Speech Program and serving children with severe articulation disorders. “I am so blessed to be in a career where we help children to communicate,” said O’Brien. “Working with children and parents is very rewarding!”

Sarah Cook

“I am so thankful for my SLP background as it gave me the medical knowledge that I currently use,” said Cook. Sarah worked in adult rehabilitation after graduate school and eventually married a doctor. She now helps her husband in their private practice involving sleep studies with patients.

This cohort has tremendous stories to tell about their time at TCU and after graduation. This is the first story of a five-part series about their lives and how TCU prepared them for their lives and careers. Check back next week to learn more about The Chain Letter.