WMU News

Miss Michigan builds on studies at WMU

July 19, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Don't think for a minute that being crowned Miss Michigan and preparing for the Miss America pageant is all Kelli Talicska has on her mind.

Talicska, an alumna of Western Michigan University who won the Miss Michigan pageant on June 19 in Muskegon, is on a mission. And that mission stems from her work at her alma mater.

Talicska, 24, who was raised in Auburn, Mich., is basing her platform on her studies as a speech pathologist. She earned undergraduate and master's degrees in speech pathology at WMU, completing her studies last fall.

"My main job as Miss Michigan is to advocate for the rights of people who have communication or related disorders," Talicska says, "and also to advocate for linguistic human rights, ensuring that everyone has the right to communicate."

Several issues already have come to the forefront. One is to work legislatively to mandate licensure of speech pathologists and audiologists. Michigan, Talicska says, is the only state that has not required the licensing of these professionals, who help prevent, diagnose and treat speech, language and hearing disorders. Another is to secure additional funding for treatment and extend services to all who need help.

Talicska, who graduated with highest honors and maintained a 3.98 grade point average as an undergraduate and 3.97 as a graduate, says treating speech, language and hearing disorders is of the utmost importance.

"What it's about is quality of life," says the energetic brunette. "When people experience a communication disorder, whether from birth or from a stroke, that's extremely devastating. It changes their entire life, it changes the entire family, it changes daily existence."

Such disorders are widespread, Talicska says. In fact, one in every six people has a communication disorder. Though they may not be restored to normal, with the right help, they still can maintain a high quality of life that greatly reduces the loss they have suffered.

With her new title, Taliccka is in a position to take her cause across Michigan and beyond. In September, she will compete in the Miss America pageant, taking her platform to the national stage. The competition begins on Monday, Sept. 13, and concludes with a national telecast from 9 to 11 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 18, on ABC.

Talicska only began competing in pageants about four years ago, first entering the Miss Auburn contest back home for fun and finishing second runner up. Later, her mother encouraged her to compete in the Miss Kalamazoo County contest. Talicska won, qualifying her to compete in Miss Michigan.

This is the third time Talicska has competed in the Miss Michigan pageant. Last year, she competed along with her sister, Kristi, 21, also a WMU student, who is studying public relations and journalism.

Talicska says she wasn't that concerned about winning. Whether she won and went on to compete for Miss America or started her career as a speech pathologist, she left it all in God's hands.

"I always say this is my blessing from God," she says, "and He has a big job for me to do. I believe we're all here for a purpose, and this happens to be mine."

Talicska plans to use the $12,000 Miss Michigan scholarship money to someday earn a doctorate in communication disorders. Whether she becomes the next Miss America or not, she plans to become a certified speech pathologist and work in her field for a few years before tackling a Ph.D.

She says her education at WMU has prepared her well both for her chosen profession and her new role as an ambassador for people with communication disorders. Also a singer, Talicska auditioned and was accepted in the WMU School of Music, but couldn't really see herself making a living as a performer. Two of her friends were speech pathology students, and she decided to take an introductory course because it sounded interesting.

"Within five minutes I knew that that was what I was meant to do," she says.

During her seven years at WMU, she was involved in a litany of extracurricular activities and was even elected Homecoming queen. She stays in close contact with about 20 friends from college, as well as several of her former instructors.

"I loved every minute of my time in Kalamazoo and my college experience," she says. "This is my second home. I have so many wonderful memories of my time here."

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 269 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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