Air Force veteran finds support, success through online degree program

Sierra Boyd sits on a boulder in the foreground with a sprawling vista of red canyons and cloudy skies in the background

Sierra Boyd is graduating this spring with a Bachelor of Science in speech and hearing science. Courtesy photo


Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2024 graduates.

Sierra Boyd didn’t have high expectations of going to college while she was growing up. 

“I came from a low-income household and was not going to be able to afford college without loans,” she said. 

Sierra Boyd shares a bright smile
Sierra Boyd

She couldn’t have anticipated that this spring she would be graduating with her Bachelor of Science in speech and hearing science, a degree she started while enlisted in the United States Air Force. 

The Kalispell, Montana, native joined the military upon graduating high school after a recruiter visited her school.

For the next eight years, Boyd served in areas far from her hometown — first as an airfield management operations supervisor in Las Vegas and Kuwait, then as a military altitude reservations supervisor for Pacific Air Forces Headquarters in Hawaii.

When Boyd learned about the speech-language pathology (SLP) field through a family friend in 2018, her dream of earning a degree was rekindled, and she applied to Arizona State University. 

While in Hawaii, she observed treatment sessions at a pediatric clinic to gain experience and determine if SLP was the right fit. 

“One of my favorite clients was a 12-year-old boy with autism,” she said. “The SLP primarily worked on improving his social skills through various exercises and games, which I got to participate in. We had a lot of fun together, and it was incredible to watch how much he progressed. I think this experience is what helped me know for sure that I was pursuing the right field.”

Needing the flexibility to accommodate her work’s varying shifts and travel, Boyd chose ASU to pursue her degree through ASU Online, where she continued her online studies after she separated from the military.

As a student, she served as a board member for the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) chapter at ASU. Her role as an online representative ensured the interests of online members were represented in all of the meetings and events. 

She also had the opportunity to serve as a teaching assistant twice during her program. Working closely with professors, improving course material and helping students furthered her understanding and appreciation of her degree. 

Now residing in Medical Lake, Washington, and reflecting on her journey, Boyd is thankful for the help she received along the way, particularly the support she found in ASU’s Yellow Ribbon Program, which is designed to help eligible nonresident students using the Post-9/11 GI Bill (Ch33) cover differences between resident and nonresident tuition. 

“I could not have afforded to attend ASU without these scholarships,” she said. ”They allowed me to complete my degree so that I can move on to grad school and my future career. I would recommend any active duty military member or veteran to attend ASU. ” 

We spoke with the new graduate about her experiences in the program and her advice for future students.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: In 2018, I learned about the field of speech-language pathology through a family friend. Upon investigating the field further, I realized it had everything I had always been looking for: helping people communicate, counseling, serving a large variety of clients, working with people who have disabilities, job versatility and opportunities for career growth. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU Online — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: Originally, I thought I only wanted to work with children in my future career. But throughout the many classes I have taken at ASU, I have learned more about other client populations and the variety of services that can be offered by SLPs, so I am excited to explore working with clients of all ages. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU Online?

A: I wanted to find an online speech and hearing science undergraduate program but wanted to make sure the school I chose had an excellent reputation. I quickly found that ASU has one of the best online schools in the country, especially for my program.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU Online?

A: Clinical Associate Professor Indigo Young taught me to think critically and objectively when approaching anything in the SLP field. She prioritized evidence-based practice but also kept us open-minded because new evidence is always being discovered that may change the way the field operates. 

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Even if you are going to school online, try to make connections with other students and faculty members. You can do this through joining clubs, study groups, attending events, getting involved in research, etc. I have learned so many valuable things about the SLP field that I would not have discovered without making these connections. It has helped me better prepare for my future career. 

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My home office with my cat napping on my lap!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I was accepted into Eastern Washington University’s communication sciences and disorders master’s degree program to become a speech-language pathologist. I will begin the program in the fall of 2024.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: According to the EPA, about 22% of global greenhouse gas emissions are caused by agriculture. The majority of farming is done on poor soil that releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when tilled. If farming is done with regenerative methods on healthy soil without tilling, the living microbes in the soil work with the plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, causing CO2 drawdown and reduction of greenhouse gases. Regenerative farming focuses on soil health, reducing soil erosion, increasing water retention, and increasing biodiversity. I would use this money to offer farmers grants to cover expenses as they switch to regenerative farming, which can take up to three years. I would also lobby for agricultural law changes, incentivizing regenerative farming.

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