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Blugold finds her passion advocating for people with communication disabilities

| Judy Berthiaume

With a mom who was a teacher and a dad who was in the medical field, Haley McKee grew up understanding the importance of being an advocate for people of all abilities, ethnicities and cultures, so pursuing a career in a helping profession was a given.

Though she knew her future would include helping people, the Onalaska native did not have a clear academic path in mind when she came to UW-Eau Claire as a freshman.

“Coming into college, I had no idea what I wanted to major in,” says McKee, noting that both her parents are Blugolds so she knew UW-Eau Claire would be a good fit for her. “Within my first year and half, I had declared three majors and two different minors.”

With the support of her professors and advisers — and the help of UW-Eau Claire’s liberal-arts based curriculum — McKee eventually found her niche in the communication sciences and disorders program. Professors and academic advisers helped her identify her interests and her strengths, as well as explore potential majors and career paths.

“So many people were incredibly helpful when I was trying to figure out my major,” says McKee. “And taking an array of general education classes also is something I’m so grateful for. By gaining knowledge from all subjects, I’m even more certain of my future.”

That future will come quickly: Despite changing her major more than once, McKee will graduate in May after four years.

“UW-Eau Claire truly helped me find my passion,” says McKee, who will begin graduate school in the fall. “I’m meant to advocate for people with communication disabilities. Communication is an important part of life, and I wish that every person will develop the skills to communicate with loved ones and those around them. I anticipate working in a hospital in outpatient care so my client base is diverse and I can broaden my expertise though building relationships with people of unique skills. I love the field I’ve chosen. I’m excited for my future.”

While she’s excelled in the classroom, McKee also has packed a lot of outside-the-classroom experiences into her four years as a Blugold.

And each of those experiences has helped shape how she sees her future.

Highlights of those experiences include:

  • Working as a student clinician in UW-Eau Claire’s Academic Intervention Clinic has taught her the value of hard work. “This ‘hard work’ I’m referring to is not about myself, but the second-graders I’ve worked with,” McKee says. “The amount of energy children put into their hardest subjects is incredible, and it inspires me each time I work with them.”
  • Working as a research assistant on a faculty-student research project in The Reading Clinic — a program that provides area youth with reading interventions — taught McKee the power of building relationships. She saw a boy she was working with make huge gains after they developed a strong connection.
  • As a respite care counselor for Easter Seals Wisconsin Camps, McKee was paired with a man whose primary mode of communication is American Sign Language. “He tested my patience and I tested his flexibility,” McKee says. “I learned from him in more ways than I am able to communicate. I went from knowing 10 signs in American Sign Language to feeling nearly proficient. It was the hardest experience of my life, but his face will always be engraved in my heart. He’s a main reason I look forward to working with people who use alternative communication.”
  • While in Guatemala as part of a social and environmental justice program, McKee visited a children's home that included an area for children with disabilities. “I visited with a lot of the kids, but the one who stole my heart was Edwardo, a boy with cerebral palsy,” she says. “He was nonverbal but his smile could light up a room. There I learned the true power of laughter; we understood different languages but our smiles were contagious.”

While McKee has gained much from her years at UW-Eau Claire, she also has given much in return to the university.

She’s put her time and talents into helping to recruit future Blugolds and helping the university’s newest Blugolds find their place on campus.

As a campus ambassador and intern in the Admissions office, McKee leads campus tours and meets with prospective students and their families. She shares her experiences as a Blugold, answers their questions and helps them figure out if UW-Eau Claire is the right fit for them.

As an Orientation intern and CSD ambassador, McKee helps young Blugolds make the transition to college and she helps others find their place with the CSD program.

“There was not a week that went by where I wasn't putting time and energy into prospective students or incoming freshmen, and I just love it,” McKee says.

Her experiences working with the Admission and Orientation staffs have given McKee a sense of what it might be like to work on a college campus, something that now has her thinking a little differently about her future.

“Because of these campus leadership positions, I now hope to someday become a professor in a communication sciences and disorders department so I can pursue both my passion for CSD and for student affairs,” McKee says.

Growing from a freshman who had no idea what she wanted to major in to a soon-to-be-graduate with a clear vision for her future has been an exciting and surprising journey, McKee says.

She credits UW-Eau Claire with providing her many opportunities to find the path that was right for her, while also allowing her to stay on track to graduate in four years.

“Putting into words how much I have learned about myself and how I’ve become who I was meant to be is virtually impossible,” McKee says. “I’ve grown in ways that I never thought I would during the last four fast years. As a Blugold, I discovered my passions and how important it is to include those passions in all parts of my life. I’m incredibly excited for my future.”

Photo caption: Haley McKee works with an elementary school student in UW-Eau Claire's Academic Intervention Clinic.