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Rebecca Schoon ’13 works in speech pathology for the Jacob’s Ladder Center in Lake County, Indiana. Rebecca Schoon | Courtesy

When the chem­icals used in the re-lac­quering of her French horn irri­tated her throat and voice box during her junior year at Hillsdale College, impeding her ability to practice music and sing, Rebecca Schoon ’13 was prompted to recon­sider pur­suing a career in music.

Although dis­couraged, she did not wallow in self-pity. Instead, she gleaned purpose and inspi­ration from her mis­fortune and decided to devote her talents to helping people overcome vocal dis­orders. Schoon now empowers children through her valiant work in speech pathology.

Raised in a musical family, Schoon began taking voice and French horn lessons in high school. She con­tinued with both studies at Hillsdale, playing in the orchestra and singing for the college and chamber choirs.

As a Hillsdale student, Schoon honed her musical skills. Her pro­fessors agree her ded­i­cation was for­mi­dable.

“Becky was a very serious and engaged student who was always pre­pared and anxious to learn,” said Artist-Teacher of Music Melissa Osmond, who was Schoon’s vocal instructor. “She is smart, affable and lovely to be around.”

Pro­fessor of Music James Holleman worked with Schoon to develop her musical talent during her time as a student at Hillsdale College. He, too, was impressed by Schoon’s resolve.

“She was very self-critical, which led to major strides as both a vocalist and French horn player,” he said.

Schoon was a member of the Sigma Alpha Iota Inter­na­tional Music Fra­ternity, and recalls spending the bulk of her time outside of classes rehearsing.

After grad­u­ating with majors in music and eco­nomics, Schoon studied speech pathology at Van­derbilt Uni­versity. She credits Hillsdale with instilling in her the tenacity and inquiry skills that pro­pelled her through Vanderbilt’s rig­orous program.

“Hillsdale pre­pared me for Van­derbilt in that I wasn’t afraid of new topics or avenues of research,” she said.

While studying at Van­derbilt, Schoon dis­covered she worked well with children. When her niece was born with a speech impairment, she decided to pursue pedi­atric vocal therapy.

Upon com­pleting her graduate studies and clinical fel­lowship, she returned to Val­paraiso, Indiana, where her parents live, to work for the State of Indiana’s First Steps program, which pro­vides early inter­vention resources and ser­vices to infants and tod­dlers with dis­abil­ities and devel­op­mental delays.

Schoon now works for the Jacob’s Ladder Center, a speech therapy clinic that partners with First Steps. She works 10 to 12 hour days, leaving the house around 7:30 a.m. and seeing between six and eight patients daily. She con­ducts in-home therapy session, working with 0- to 3-year-old patients, and training parents to work with and assist their children.

“Helping parents appre­ciate a child’s strengths and work through weak­nesses to become a happy family, or seeing a mom get excited to hear her child say ‘Mama’ for the first time makes me feel like all the skills I have worked to develop are being used as an investment in the com­munity,” she said.

During therapy ses­sions, Schoon engages her patients in con­structive play to help them make con­nec­tions. They learn to express them­selves by imi­tating her expres­sions and ver­bal­iza­tions. Schoon uses a variety of activ­ities– including sign lan­guage, word mod­eling, and playing with bubbles and toys– but has found singing to be the most relatable, flexible, and acces­sible tool.

“I find that singing is so uni­versal in terms of what children are ready to do,” she said. “It’s not my college reper­toire. I’m really good at making the ele­phant noise because of my French horn back­ground.”

Schoon strives to conduct bagless therapy ses­sions, in which she does not rely on any resources outside patients’ homes, thus enabling them to practice their skills throughout the week without investing in costly equipment or toys. One of her fondest mem­ories is of a session in which she engaged her young patient with nothing but a sock.

Schoon serves Indiana’s Lake County, which includes the city of Gary. Because of the adverse socioe­co­nomic con­dition of the county, few ther­a­pists are willing to work there, leading to Schoon’s high caseload.

“If it’s not me, it’s no one,” she said. “So I feel a respon­si­bility,.”

Laura Cohen, Clinical Coor­di­nator of Jacob’s Ladder Center, con­siders Schoon a “won­derful addition” to her team.

“Rebecca serves lower income areas and deals with a lot of dif­ficult kids and parents,” Cohen said. “She does a won­derful job con­necting with them and their parents, and helping them achieve break­throughs.”

Cohen also said she is impressed by Schoon’s inge­nuity.

“She once did an entire therapy session with a  fly in the room, talking about where it landed and where it was flying,” she said. “Her strengths are thinking outside the box and using what is available to her.”

Though therapy ses­sions are usually joyful, Schoon’s work is not untouched by tragedy. Human suf­fering, pain, and mis­fortune, are intrinsic to any ther­a­peutic career, she explained, citing the deaths of past patients who suf­fered addi­tional ail­ments as dev­as­tating. She credits Hillsdale College with equipping her with the wisdom and strength to grapple with the chal­lenges pre­sented her.

“The things I learned at Hillsdale about love and respon­si­bility have helped me process suf­fering and realize what my role is in making it better without getting burned out or jaded by the chal­lenges that are there,” she said. “Love is sac­rifice. You will not be unscathed by it.”

But Schoon said the grat­i­fi­cation she finds in helping children find their voices far out­weighs the obstacles pre­sented by her work.

“The soul’s presence is often demon­strated in our skills,” she said. “Where does that soul reside when our skills have been damaged? Whether the skills are fully regained or not, the soul remains immovable, but my work helps people have a voice to defend their human dignity.”