Summer McMurry claims a singular distinction in Western Carolina University history ― she’s the first person to earn a doctoral degree in speech communication and disorders through a collaborative program with the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
She earned her Ph.D. in December 2019, via distance education technologies and face-to-face instruction.
"My home is Western North Carolina. I am well planted with my family and an established business,” McMurry says. “There really was no other option for me to pursue a doctoral degree in my field of studies other than this.”
WCU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders has long offered a bachelor’s degree in communication sciences and disorders, and a master’s degree in speech-language pathology. Currently there are more than 100 undergraduate and some 60 graduate students enrolled at WCU.
The WCU-UNCG program began with its first students, including McMurry, an experienced speech pathologist, in 2016 following years of planning and development. The collaboration allows WCU faculty access to UNCG doctoral students to aid their research and in return, students in the western region to have access to doctoral-level studies. Both institutions benefit from an extended network of researchers and mentors.
It certainly proved to be an ideal opportunity for McMurry, a working mother of three.
“The support of family and friends was instrumental for me getting a doctorate, as you can imagine for someone balancing work and parenting and studies,” she says. “My husband was really supportive, helped share the load and more than carried his share of the weight with family duties while I pursued this, with a goal to graduate before 2020.”
Along with her husband, McMurry owns and manages Carolina Pediatric Therapy, which employs nearly 100 people and has outreach clinics in Charlotte, Brevard, Waynesville and Hendersonville, as well as two locations in Asheville, providing physical therapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy, early childhood intervention and behavioral health services for children and teens.
“We offer several services, so rather than little ones getting PT at one location, nutritional services at another, behavioral health at another with care being disjointed and families left to figure it out, we are able to provide everything and if they can’t come to us, we can go to them in their home, school or through tele-therapy, which we have added as an option since the COVID-19 pandemic began," says McMurry. "Now, we’re a nearly two decades old practice. We have a lot of great leaders and a fantastic support team to help. Nobody does this successfully on their own.”
The WCU-UNCG program meets the needs of speech-language pathologists in Western North Carolina by providing a much-needed local opportunity for doctoral studies, said Bill Ogletree, head of WCU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. “This cutting-edge collaboration maximizes strong resources at two UNC System campuses and the resulting possibilities are limitless,” he said.
Formulated for part-time doctoral students, the WCU-UNCG program prepares professionals for careers in higher education or industry, with emphasis on research, professional leadership, public policy and economic development. At its core, the joint program for the doctoral degree still upholds the mission of WCU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders to serve diverse populations, support a community of scholarship and meet the challenges provided by ethical practices, changing populations and scope of practice demands.
Location: Cullowhee - Main Campus
Bachelor of Science, Master of Science
Faculty are Experienced Clinicians
Training at the Speech & Hearing Clinic
Learn more about WCU’s Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders or call 828-227-3379.