As a child, Pamela Chris (Wilber) Howard G’99 marveled at how a speech therapist could help give words to someone who couldn’t talk. After decades of working as a clinical speech-language pathologist, she’s launched her own enterprise to design a baby bottle that mimics breastfeeding and reduces health and speech problems related to bottle feeding.
After years of working in the field as a speech-language pathologist (SLP), Pamela Chris (Wilber) Howard G’99 has become an entrepreneur. A few years ago, the Voorheesville, New York-resident launched her own business to develop an innovative baby bottle to mimic breastfeeding, reduce problems related to bottle feeding, and optimize speech development.
What is your typical day like?
A typical day is a desk day. I check in with the team, go over literature-review updates from our research assistant, Sarah, and answer questions from biomed engineering students at RPI, with whom we’re working to develop our design. My “typical days” have stayed pretty much the same over the years.
Every now and then, a so-called typical day becomes magical.
My favorite was four years ago. I was doing a literature review that led me to Dr. Ruth Lawrence at The University of Rochester School of Medicine, author of “Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession.” We started talking.
Dr. Lawrence later introduced me to Dr. Mary Applegate, MD, MPH, a Capital District expert in maternal and infant health. She became our medical director. Last year, we enlisted Gary Mittleman, president of Turtlerun Ventures LLC and CEO of ReVivo Medical LLC, as our business consultant.
Even after five years, I always think the same thing: at the end of the day, I couldn’t do this alone. But you know, that’s where so many entrepreneurs start out … alone at a desk!
How did you find your career path?
I think the path found me! And it was so long ago (deep breath): 1968. I was in high school. My mother was a teacher’s aide in our elementary school in Voorheesville, New York. BOCES was brand new.
At the supper table one night, Mom started talking about “the speech therapist.” I had heard of speech therapy because my friend’s kid brother went to speech sessions at the Easter Seals clinic at Albany Medical Center.
I wanted to learn more. The speech therapist, Ross Stonefield, invited me to observe. The day I visited, he apologized because he had to give a test, The Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test. I thought it was just brilliant. It was a way a person who couldn’t talk could show what they know.
I’ve been a goner ever since.
P.S.: Ross and I reconnected in 2009 – more than 40 years later – at an American Speech and Hearing Conference.
What do you do for fun?
My husband and I delight in traveling to Europe, as well as visiting our six children (we call ourselves “the geriatric Brady Bunch”) and seven grandchildren. They live all across the U.S. I have stayed active in community theater, in particular, Schenectady Civic Players. I crossed off a big item on my theater bucket list when I directed “The Madwoman of Chaillot” there in 2018. I jazzed up the cast by adding three children (one used sign language), a concertina player, and a juggler.
I am about to begin a new hobby: vegetable gardening. I’ve been on the program-development committee at Capital Roots for about four years and am a passionate supporter of that fine organization.
What did you like most about Saint Rose?
Where to begin? You know, it’s “who” more than “what.” The communications sciences and disorders faculty is so utterly impressive and approachable.
I was in grad school from 1997 till 1999, so I was fortunate to be a student of Dr. Mark Ylvisaker. I was honored to be Sister Char’s graduate assistant and help with her book about stuttering, “Synergistic Stuttering Therapy: A Holistic Approach.” Dr. Jack Pickering was my advisor and guided me in an independent research project in 1998. I believe his mentorship gave me the confidence to start my company. Also, I love re-connecting with Dr. David DeBonis, Dr. Julie Hart, and fellow students from “my era” at various conferences year after year.
No one in your family or in your group of friends can understand your work as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) like another SLP. We went through a rigorous program at Saint Rose. The survival of “the comps,” the nickname for the comprehensive exam at the end of the master’s program, was nothing less than a professional rite of passage.
Passing the comps was, for us, the equivalent of winning an academic achievement award.
Why should alums keep engaging?
Take nothing for granted. Do not expect that an academic department will always be there. I’ve witnessed the demise of speech programs at two different institutions that I attended.
On a more positive note, I’ve proudly watched Saint Rose grow in reputation. I still feel I am part of the place.
It’s my academic and professional home. It’s just natural to want to maintain a good home.