Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting Concordia's unique or exemplary May 2019 graduates.
While an estimated 20 to 50 percent of college freshmen begin their higher education experience as “undecided,” Claudia Zastrow knew exactly what degree she wanted to pursue when she started at Concordia four years ago.
While still in high school, Zastrow, a Sheboygan native, had shadowed a Sheboygan Area School District speech-language pathologist, Julie Jurss, during one of the professional’s regular visits to Wilson Elementary School. Zastrow, with her caring nature and ardent desire to help others, immediately became hooked on the profession.
“I love connecting with people and learning their stories and seeing how I can help them find resources,” says Zastrow. “Just going above and beyond for other people is what I want to do with my life.”
The only problem: Concordia didn’t offer a speech-language pathology (SLP) major—at least not when Zastrow started.
Still, the Sheboygan Area Lutheran High School alum was dead set on attending CUW. The university’s size and proximity to home, as well as the promise of being able to continue to grow in her faith at a Lutheran school were all attributes Zastrow couldn’t pass up—even if Concordia’s “coming soon” SLP program wasn’t quite up and running.
Four years later her leap of faith and trust in the Lord has paid off. On Saturday, during Concordia University’s spring commencement exercises, she’ll be among the second cohort of students to graduate from CUW with a Bachelor of Science in communication sciences and disorders (the precursor to the master’s-level speech-language pathology program).
In the absence of her desired program, Zastrow spent her freshman year knocking out her requisite general education courses. By her sophomore year, Concordia had launched the bachelor’s in communication sciences and disorders program, and this summer, less than a month after Zastrow will celebrate the completion of her undergraduate studies, Concordia will begin its inaugural speech-language pathology master’s course—and Zastrow will be enrolled.
“This whole program feels like it’s been a gift from God directly to me,” Zastrow says. “It just all fell into place, and I’m incredibly thankful that I’ve been able to pursue a career I love without having to sacrifice the college experience that I wanted.”
That’s not to say that Zastrow’s college experience has been a walk in the park. Her diagnosed anxiety disorder, ADHD, and comprehension disability have made schoolwork throughout most of her life a challenge. Despite her diagnoses, Zastrow worked twice as hard as the average teenager to maintain a 4.0 GPA throughout high school. The rigor of a collegiate-level program, however, threatened to amplify the concerns.
But Zastrow found in Concordia a lifeline.
“My professors, they don’t coddle me in any way, but they work with me, they fulfill my accommodations, and they just give me the ability to do my best in an environment that works well for me,” Zastrow says. “The fact that I’m not a perfect student and I’m not from this cookie cutter program really demonstrates that I had to put in the work to be where I’m at today.”
Zastrow’s family has played a huge role in her success as well. In fact, her family was one of the major motivations behind her choice to attend a college close to home. Early in Zastrow’s life, her family faced a trauma that Zastrow says helped her to truly appreciate the value of her family members, especially her mother.
When Zastrow was in third grade, her mother suffered a life-threatening infection in her heart. Doctors told the family that Zastrow’s mother likely wouldn’t make it through, but she’s miraculously alive and well and fully functioning today.
The fact that I’m not a perfect student and I’m not from this cookie cutter program really demonstrates that I had to put in the work to be where I’m at today. —Claudia Zastrow ('19)
“My mom had to relearn how to walk and talk and drive,” Zastrow says. “That experience definitely brought us closer and it makes me feel prepared and eager even to be working with patients like that and helping not just the patient but the family members through.
“That’s what I’m really looking forward to someday,” Zastrow continues. “I can have that ability to step into their shoes and to see what true pain looks like. I can be that piece to help a family stay together and keep communicating together and work through it all.”
She’s certainly not one to shy away from trials—or be afraid to take a chance on a school. In high school, she made the decision to transfer from the public school she attended her freshman and sophomore year to Sheboygan Lutheran.
“It was a hard decision to make as a teenager, but it just kind of solidified my choice once I got to Concordia,” Zastrow says. “It’s shaped who I am as a person. My faith is number one above all. It serves as my base and my foundation for what I truly want to do in my vocation. My faith answers why I want to go into speech-language pathology, and it gives me that affirmation that I am doing what I’m supposed to do and living in God’s calling.”
— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at email@example.com or 262-243-2149.
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