The Best Medicine

Colorful halls adorned with adorable animals are not typically associated with institutions or higher learning. But that's not the case in Northern Arizona University's clinical speech-language pathology therapy suite, thanks to the work of alum Ellie Moon. Two years ago, she helped turn the drab, gray, intimidating building used for children's therapy into a welcoming space youngsters would enjoy visiting.

Moon graduated in 2011 with a master’s degree in clinical speech-language pathology and explains how her education and experience led to a great new opportunity. 

“I recently did an externship – which is the last part of my degree – at the Neurological Rehab Center in Las Vegas,” Moon says. “It was truly a fascinating experience. I just took a job with the Clark County School District as a speech therapist in North Las Vegas.”

While always passionate about art, Moon was previously on a different career trajectory. An alumnus of the university's journalism undergraduate program -- she worked, as a student, for both a local radio station and as the editor of Northern Arizona University’s student newspaper, The Lumberjack -- Moon served as a reporter for the Associated Press and several newspapers.

“I would never have been able to have that experience without the one-on-one mentoring I received at Northern Arizona University,” Moon says.

Eventually, Moon decided she wanted to make a career change. The debilitating pain from fibromyalgia made it impossible for her to "keep up with the speed of journalism," as she put it.

“I realized I had to re-train,” Moon says. “I needed to find another way to use my communication skills.”

She then shifted from communicating with the world to interpersonal communication when she decided to change careers, and sought a master’s degree to make that possible.

Moon says the journalism program taught her two skills that translated naturally over to speech pathology: interviewing and research. “People who are trained in news are able to analyze lots of information and synthesize it,” she says.

Between careers, Moon used art as a personal therapeutic to get through her worst pain—a pain that once made her feel isolated from the rest of the world. But through her art, she says she became reconnected and now wants to help others feel that way

"People who are hard of hearing or have some problem with their communication ability are very isolated,” Moon says. “What speech pathologists do, their mission, is to breech that and bring those people to be participants in the world. It is such a passionate and powerful thing to see that spark in someone's eyes, and know that you helped them be able to play, participate, and enjoy instead of feeling so alone."

That spark is something Moon wants to provide to children, and she sought to use her artistic gifts to do so. When Moon first saw the gray walls in the narrow therapy suite as a graduate student, he asked clinic director Dr. Kim Faranella if she could try to make a difference by implementing a colorful, vibrant welcoming mural.

"These kids fail so many times before we see them,” Moon says. “They are failing to connect fully with their world. To be led into a room that is not particularly welcoming didn't seem like an ideal situation. It just occurred to me that it doesn't have to be that way, so I volunteered to paint. There are some common sounds that we see in therapy that are built into the mural that we commonly see in phonology. They're built right into the mural so that therapists can use that to help the children as well."

This work Moon did at Northern Arizona University continues in her new career.

“Maybe the student’s vocabulary is four grades below where it needs to be,” Moon says. “If you can use art, if you can use theater, if you can get to them in another way, then you need to try. If you’re marching up and down the hallway dressed as pirates, you’ll look silly, but that may be what’s necessary to help.”