Bold Lifestyles: Meet Andrea Richards

Communication disorders instructor Andrea Richards received her Bachelor of Arts in mass communication at Truman State University and her Master’s in education in communication disorders at Northeastern State University in Oklahoma. She is the chapter adviser for Sigma Sigma Sigma sorority, a member of multiple committees, including the Disabilities Studies Minor Committee, the Child Studies Minor Committee and the Truman Week Committee, and is co-owner and operations manager of West Winery at Jackson Stables.

What courses do you teach at Truman?

I am on faculty for both our undergraduate and graduate programs in communication disorders, so it’s a mix of courses. I teach the Introduction to Communication Disorders with the freshmen, and I typically teach the Freshmen Week course as well. I also teach graduate courses such as Dysphagia or swallowing disorders and a class on stroke and traumatic brain injury. It’s a wide range that I get to teach. We have a speech and hearing clinic on campus and a few off-site assignments, such as Missouri’s First Steps program that our students participate in to obtain clinical practice. I supervise the student clinicians both on- and off-campus. Therefore, my duties are a nice mix of clinical supervision and classwork. I also teach a faculty-led study abroad course for our CMDS students to Mexico each May Interim.

What made you interested in the communication disorders field?

In a nutshell, I started at Truman after high school and graduated with a degree in mass communications. I still didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I did a little bit of research to find a field that would fit my interests in medicine and to help people. After receiving my graduate degree in Oklahoma in speech pathology, I worked in the medical setting in Tulsa — mostly the intensive care and acute care setting, with patients who had suffered a traumatic brain injury or stroke. After my first son was born, we decided to move back home to North Missouri. I then began working in the Kirksville area, again in the medical field as a speech pathologist, covering a 50-mile radius of rural hospitals and home health contracts, as well as the acute care and rehabilitation units at our local hospital. I also became an independent provider for Missouri’s First Steps program — providing speech therapy services to infants and toddlers ages 0-3. After working about eight years, I was contacted by a Truman professor to see if I was interested in helping with the clinical supervision on campus part-time. Fast forward and I am now a full-time instructor and clinical supervisor at Truman and continue to see clients through the First Steps program.

Was the transition between the medical field and teaching difficult?

No, because the courses that I teach are more medically based, within the graduate coursework. When I first began teaching, it was refreshing to be able to apply my experience from out in the “real world” to the topics in class — I think the students like that perspective. I miss the medical setting from time to time, but we have clients who receive services at our clinic who have had a brain trauma or a stroke, so I still get to interact and work with them through the students. Teaching also allows me to have a similar vacation break schedule with my children. In the medical setting I worked holidays and weekends.

How did you get involved with Jackson Stables?

My fiancé and partner, Robert Jackson, D.O., built the stables in 2002, truly wanting a unique stable for his horses. So, on a napkin he drew a design with his architect friend Allen Judy out of Macon. The stable was built by local Amish and others. Quickly, Robert realized it was becoming something a bit nicer than he expected for the horses! It was Robert that always had a dream of a winery or some form of a social gathering place and — also recognizing that there were few event centers in the Kirksville area at the time — we started hosting events in 2005. We then met Chris and Jen West of Macon, and Robert’s dream of a winery was born — to merge the stables with West Winery as an exclusive site to serve West Winery wines on a more consistent and open basis with myself as the operating manager. Chris West is the winemaker for West Winery and he and his wife now have four sites across Missouri that serve as West Winery sites. The main winery in Macon, ours at Jackson Stables, one in Hannibal called Cave Hollow and another in Cottleville near St. Louis called Rack House Winery. We currently open for the season between March and December and are finishing our 11th year. We are open to the public Thursday through Saturday evenings for wine tasting and wine purchase as well as a beer selections. We book the Stables for private events throughout our open season and we book often a year in advance for our spring and fall dates. The events include weddings, receptions, ATSU and Truman group events, formals, proms, various dinners, as well as a monthly house band, Deadwood, a popular monthly Art and Wine night and our dinner theatres in the spring and fall.

Are there specific events you enjoy the most?

We host a lot of fundraisers ranging from our local YMCA and United Way campaigns to the FLATS Half-Trail Marathon and many philanthropies. I always enjoy hosting and helping the various groups and causes to create a fabulous event. I also enjoy the dinner theatre events with the Kirksville Park and Recreation group every fall and spring. I have a background in music and I love the arts, so I enjoy the events that include live music, artistic expression and theatre.

What advice would you have for students?

I think for any degree that has internship opportunities to truly seek out the unique opportunities — think bigger, do something that scares you a little bit — challenge yourself. Study abroad, stretch your imagination and never stop learning. And for those that are out there still wondering, “Am I doing what I want to do? What will I do with my degree?” I’d like for them to keep an open mind and to always look at different opportunities to create a job you love. You have to love what you do — life is too short and precious. As a speech therapist, I remember getting that first paycheck and thinking, “Oh wow! I actually get paid too? I truly get to do what I love and get paid for it!” Of course there are moments when you get frustrated and stressed with any job, but you have to take that time to search for what is your passion and create your career for yourself. And then I guess another piece of advice is to be flexible, be willing to continue to learn and grow. I would have never thought I’d co-own and run a winery [and] event center let alone teach at a university when I started as a speech therapist. I’m glad I took both of those giant leaps. I just wonder what is next.

This appeared in the Dec. 8 issue of the Index.