LaChana Flanders (she/her) M.S., CCC-SLP graduated from UConn in 2015 with a Bachelor of Arts in Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences and received a Master’s of Science degree from Pace University in Communication Sciences and Disorders in 2020. She is now the founder of Valiant Speech & Language Solutions.
Heidi Pineda: Tell us about how you discovered your passion!
LaChana Flanders: I majored in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences, but I started as a Biology major because I thought I wanted to go to medical school. My family is from the Caribbean, and there’s a certain expectation that you either have to become a doctor or a lawyer because those are the two most successful occupations. As a Biology major, I was struggling with my classes because I was taking so many STEM classes at once, and I was pushing through it even though I was failing my classes because I didn’t want to fail my family. Then I took Organic Chemistry. I failed it and then I took it again and had to withdraw. At that point, I decided that being a Biology major was not working out for me. I took a Communication Sciences and Disorders course with a friend and that’s how I first discovered the field of speech pathology. I was excited about it because I saw that I could still work in a medical setting and it slowly started to feel like this is what I should be doing.
HP: What is one on-campus resource that contributed to your success and how?
LF: I had a job at the UConn Speech and Hearing Clinic. I started at the front desk, and it was my first time stepping foot into the field and that opened the door for me to see what the field was like. Being in that space I had the chance to meet people who were already Speech Therapists and eventually a Ph.D. student at UConn who was doing research. I had the chance to help (now Professor) Dana Arthur with her research and transcribe information from assessments she did. She was a great resource for me in progressing my career journey and getting into the field.
HP: Has identity ever posed a challenge in your journey?
LF: I think it was especially difficult as a woman because they are not always seen as the business owners, they are seen more as the mothers and stay at home to take care of the kids. As I got older, I realized that I can do both. I can be successful with both having a business and having a family. In terms of being a woman of color, it was especially hard at UConn because it’s hard to find those people that you feel like you can trust and have really good intentions for you. I have had a couple of professors that told me “you’re not going to make it”. Once, a professor looked at my GPA and he flat out told me that nobody is going to accept me to a graduate school. I used to work as a tour guide and I had one of my managers tell me that my GPA was never good enough and that I was never going to make it to graduate school and never going to be a speech therapist. If I had let those little things or people get to me, I wouldn’t be where I am today.
HP: What prompted you to start your own business, Valiant Speech & Language Solutions?
LF: Little seeds were planted when I was younger by my family, and then also when I was in graduate school. My mom and aunts would always tell me that even if you’re working full time, make sure that you always set up something for yourself. Then, when I got to graduate school, I started realizing that I’m not the kind of person that conforms to what everybody else wants to do. I started realizing that there are different things that happen at my full-time job that are out of my control. Like how many times I can see my patients during the week, how long I can see them for, and so on. I wanted to be able to do things in my own way and be able to give everything to my patients that I can because that’s really where my passion is. So that led me to towards starting my private practice.
Through this practice, I am focused on the adult population and geriatric population – I love working with them. I love seeing their progress from not being able to speak one day, and a couple of months of therapy later, they’re back to normal and talking after stroke.
My business is structured with a focus on community empowerment. Caregiver education is very important. That means helping people understand that your grandmother or grandfather might need an extra five minutes to process their information before they can respond to you. It can also mean understanding why their behaviors might be changing, especially with patients who have dementia. This can help in recovery or managing the disease as it continues to progress, but without putting a judgmental label on it.
HP: What is one piece of advice you would give to someone trying to follow a similar path?
LF: I think my story is non-traditional because I went around the corner a couple of times and in different directions before actually choosing what I wanted to do. I would say that even if you are not where you want to be right now, you will always end up where you’re supposed to be. So if you feel like things are not going how they’re supposed to be, maybe you’re not getting the grades, or you don’t feel the passion that you thought you would feel in the path you chose, try taking an extra class or trying new things. You might just end up discovering a new passion or path.