From Special Education Teacher to SLP—Seizing My Opportunity from the Marianas Islands

White sandy beaches, tropical weather year-round, people as warm as the climate. Many dream about the island life; to get far away from their daily stresses and bask in the sunlight. The beautiful Marianas Islands, a 14-island archipelago located near Southeast Asia, is home to beautiful flame trees, diverse coral reefs, and the friendliest people. That’s where I’m from.

Unfortunately, location isn’t ideal when it comes to job opportunities on the Islands, and many have to leave their paradise to find careers. Much-needed professionals like speech-language pathologists are hard to find; yet, the number of individuals needing their services continue to grow each year.

Project EPICS—A Grant to Expand the SLP Workforce on Marianas Islands

San Jose State University (SJSU) and the University of Guam Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Services (CEDDERS) recognized this set-back—and developed an opportunity of epic proportions.

They created a grant—Educating Pacific Island Clinicians in Speech-Language Pathology (also known as Project EPICS—that provides funding for foundational and graduate-level SLP coursework through distance and face-time instruction over a 5-year span. Their goal is to build a strong SLP workforce on the Islands.

Seizing My Opportunity

As someone who grew up with a stutter, I remember what it was like being pulled out of class to practice speaking. I’m forever grateful for the support my speech-language pathologist gave me through those services. It wasn’t until later in life, when I majored in special education in college, that I realized the strategies she used to help me manage my stutter.

When I learned about the Project EPICS grant opportunity, I was fresh out of college, looking for my first special education teaching job on my home island of Saipan. And then it hit me—I remembered all that time with my speech-language pathologist and the support she gave me. I was intrigued!

Although slightly intimidated by the 5-year timeframe, I figured the time would pass by regardless, so why not let those years lead to a graduate degree! The opportunity appealed to me for a number of reasons:

  • Not only would the program help me with my academic and career growth, but I also felt a deep personal connection to the field, as someone who stutters.
  • Being a partially online program, I could pursue the degree while living and working in Saipan. After all, the student loan payments I already had from my special education degree were knocking at my door. I needed to be able to work to pay off those loans, while simultaneously going back to school.
  • Speech-language pathologists are in high demand on the Marianas—job security is basically a given.
  • As a fully paid grant, it would cover my books, tuition, and a laptop. The only thing I’d have to spend is my time, energy, and brain power.

So, I figured—why not go for it?

Looking Forward to the Future

Currently, there are more than 20 of us in our EPICS cohort. Most of our courses are online with video meetings, but for the past two summers we’ve gathered on the island of Guam for onsite classes with our professors from SJSU teaching us important information about the field. But beyond that, these onsite classes have helped us form a bond—not just as a cohort, but as a team.

As we approach our externships in California, we’re mixed with nerves and excitement—now we have to synthesize all the coursework we’ve completed and apply it in practice! But just two years shy from finishing the program, we’re moving another step closer to our united dream of becoming speech-language pathologists.

I’m looking forward to the day I become a speech-language pathologist in the schools setting—or maybe even my own private practice—where I can work with students from all different backgrounds and communication needs.


  1. Avatar Selah October 23, 2018 at 3:06 pm

    Wow! What an amazing opportunity!! It would be neat to see if, in the future, there could be an extension of the program to where you can have summer clinical hours/externships conducted on the islands as a clinic set up to begin the process of serving your community! Or do you think it is helpful to get outside practice? As a distance education student in Alaska, I love that for my clinical/externship hours, I get to serve Alaskans that already need my services!

    1. Ignacio Ignacio October 23, 2018 at 5:03 pm

      Hello Selah,

      Thank you for your kind words and it is very nice to meet you. I would love to do clinical/externship hours here on Saipan, however we do not have any SLPs on island to supervise us. I still plan to work within the school system for a few years then probably start my own outside practice.

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