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Speech-Language Pathology Student Extends Family Legacy into Third Generation

Set to graduate in August from the UTHSC speech-language pathology program, Izzy Freeman is following in the footsteps of multiple family members.

For Izzy Freeman, taking care of people comes naturally. Her love for helping others is one thing that drew her to a career in speech-language pathology, but her family history in the field provided the initial inspiration.

“Being surrounded by the profession my whole life was definitely a contributing factor,” she says.

Izzy, from Hendersonville, Tennessee, is on her way to becoming a third-generation speech-language pathologist (SLP), with her mother, grandmother, and grandfather preceding her in the profession. She describes her grandmother, Wanda Freeman, as the instigator. Gran, as Izzy calls her, received a degree in SLP in the 1950s and worked in the school setting for 30 years and in home health for another 20 years.

Izzy’s grandfather, Bill Freeman, received a master’s degree in speech pathology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, in 1959. He went on to work as a speech professor at Cumberland College in Kentucky. “He was made for that job,” Izzy says. “If anyone loved to talk, it was Gramps.”

According to Izzy, her grandparents saw a knack for speech pathology in their daughter-in-law, Izzy’s mother, Robbi Freeman. After receiving an undergraduate degree in education, Robbi’s mother-in-law took her to the UT Hearing and Speech Center to enroll in the SLP program. She studied under Bernard Silverstein, PhD, founding director of the center, and Harold Luper, PhD, who followed Dr. Silverstein as director and headed the Department of Audiology and Speech Pathology for decades.

“Dr. Silverstein and Dr. Luper are SLP icons who taught me everything I know about articulation and stuttering to this day,” Robbi says. “We studied in every area of the clinic, and our professors, who wrote the textbooks, were there with open doors to educate, motivate, and challenge us to be the best in our profession. I was completely humbled by the experience and pray I have made them proud.”

Robbi started her career in home health and in the nursing home setting but has worked in schools since 1999, specializing in the preschool population. Watching her daughter continue her family’s legacy as an SLP makes her “extremely ecstatic.”

“It gives me much joy to see my girl follow the footsteps of her grandmother and myself into a profession that challenges you intellectually and allows you to touch the lives of others,” Robbi says.

Robbi Freeman, right, describes herself as “extremely ecstatic” with her daughter Izzy’s continuing her family legacy in the field of speech pathology.

The glimpses into the profession Izzy received throughout her childhood solidified her plans for her future. In addition to seeing her mother and grandparents work in the field, she was also inspired to pursue a health care career by her father’s work as a home-health physical therapist. Her high school senior project involving an SLP specializing in reading and cognitive intervention, along with her family’s own health experiences, provided additional inspiration.

“I think it became more apparent that this was what I wanted to do when my grandparents got older, and we started to take care of them. It was something that came naturally and comfortably for me,” Izzy says. “Generally, I love helping people and I felt this profession would help me pursue that.”

Izzy is now in her final months in the UTHSC MS-SLP program and has made some fond memories. “My clinical placement with Angie Orr was one of my favorites,” she says. “Each week we went to a rehabilitation center and led ‘Bingo-cise’ for the residents, where we would call out the Bingo numbers along with adaptive exercises. They loved when we came, and I thought it was such a fun and exciting approach to connect with the population.”

After she graduates in August, Izzy plans on returning to the area where she grew up and working with adults in an inpatient/outpatient setting. “I have always connected well with older adults and love listening to their stories,” she says. “I want to work with stroke patients or patients with progressive diseases because I have loved my experiences working with adults using compensatory speech strategies or augmentative and alternative communication devices to support their communication and participation in their world.”

As she prepares for her career, Izzy is thankful for the opportunity to not only make a difference in people’s lives, but to also make her family proud. “I am so proud of the work Izzy has put forth to become the next SLP in our family,” Robbi says, “and I cannot wait to watch her grow in a field that constantly provides others hope.”

This story was initially published in the Spring 2023 issue of Health Professions Magazine.