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April Klein at Goodwill, where she works as a Program Coordinator for their Aspire program.

April Klein at Goodwill, where she works as a Program Coordinator for their Aspire program.

While many students may feel that graduate school is required to find a fulfilling career with a Communication Science undergraduate degree, alumna April Klein has proven otherwise.  

Klein graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences in 1993, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communication Science (CS) with minors in American Sign Language and Psychology. Throughout her professional life, she has found her niche-–working with adults with intellectual, developmental disabilities, and/or Autism (IDD/A), extending her knowledge to the population she serves.  

Finding Her Niche

Klein with her husband, son and daughter, who are all graduates of the University of Pittsburgh. 

For several years, Klein worked at the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services, working closely with deaf individuals with IDD/A and mental health issues. In 2001, Klein left her job to be a full-time mother for 10 years. When she returned to the workforce in 2011, she found a job at Goodwill as a Vocational Evaluator assessing individuals for work readiness referred by the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation. In 2015, a new adult training program was being developed for adults with IDD/A. 

“During that time, the state of Pennsylvania decided to close sheltered workshops, which employed IDD/A individuals and paid them by the number of items completed in a day (ex. boxing clothes by size) and stated that everyone deserves to earn a living wage regardless of their intellectual or developmental disability,” Klein said. “So, Goodwill decided to put together an adult training facility called Aspire.” 

Klein worked as the Program Facilitator for Goodwill’s Aspire until 2017 when she was promoted to Program Coordinator, a position she has filled ever since. In her role, Klein works to organize the day-to-day operations of the program and ensures that the facility and community guidelines are being followed, as well as working directly with clients.  

In deciding to focus her work on the IDD/A population, Klein said it was an easy decision to make.   

“I realized after being at the Center for Hearing and Deaf Services that working with individuals with IDD/A and mental health barriers was my niche,” Klein said. “I understood and felt comfortable with the population.” 

Seeing The Impact of Her Work 

Klein’s passionate connection to her work is because of the clients she interacts with, something that sticks with her even after the workday ends.  

“This isn’t the type of job where you leave it at home – this stays with you all the time,” Klein said. “You have to be called to do this. I’m not doing this for the money. I do this job for the experience, for the impact it makes on my program participants. I do it to make a difference in the lives of the individuals we serve. It’s a calling.” 

Through her work, she has seen the progress made in the personal and professional lives of the clients. 

“We’ve had two individuals who did so well that they were placed in small group employment sites,” Klein said. “They’re getting paid minimum wage working retail at Goodwill while being supported with a job coach. We are providing soft skills to help them, and some have gotten their employment entirely on their own. We have other individuals who are ready to start working as well, so that has been the biggest thing.” 

Leveraging Her Communication Science Degree

 Klein with her Australian Shepherd, Blitz.

In her work with clients, Klein has been able to exercise the skills she learned through her degree at SHRS throughout the evolution of her career path.  

Many students who obtain a Communication Science degree at SHRS pursue graduate programs in Speech-Language Pathology or Audiology, but in Klein’s experience, she has found success without an additional degree. The expertise she gained from her undergraduate education set her up to develop a career path that is both challenging and inspiring. 

“You may say ‘I’m going to be a speech therapist’ or ‘I’m going to be an audiologist,’ but there are other avenues that you can take that will fit your degree,” Klein said. “I have several individuals who are nonverbal and several individuals who are taking speech therapy. We do a lot, whether it’s using sign language, a speech device to help facilitate communication, or just talking. In order to effectively serve our program members, we have to be able to understand and facilitate communication with them.” 

Ali Lewandowski, director of the undergraduate Communication Science program at SHRS, stressed that at the core of the CS degree is gaining knowledge of human connection, something that is invaluable to any career path.  

"While many students pursue paths to graduate school to become Speech-Language Pathologists or Audiologists, others discover that the skills obtained through this degree can be immediately implemented into fulfilling careers,” Lewandowski said. “Many assume that these careers exist only in the realm of health care, but there are endless, unique employment opportunities that require individuals to have effective and impactful communication, specific knowledge of various communication modalities and compassion toward individuals with communication differences. Graduates of the Communication Science program will feel prepared to bring these invaluable skills and more to any job that aligns with their specific interests and passions."   

For other students in SHRS pursuing a bachelor’s degree, Klein emphasized her hope that they do not view graduate school as a determinant to their success in their respective fields, stressing that there are numerous opportunities possible with a CS undergraduate degree. 

“There’s no hard and fast rule that says I must go to grad school,” Klein said. “I have as much life experience working with these individuals as someone with a master’s degree. You can grow with a bachelor’s degree. There is movement, and that’s something that can happen for students.” 


Want to learn more about the Communication Science undergraduate program? Visit our website or reach out to an enrollment specialist at