A Google Search Put This Alumna on the Path to the NBA – and an Equally Rewarding Day Job

May 16, 2024 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

Sitting in a Barnes & Noble on a Tuesday night in March 2017, Nadeen Rollins conducted a Google search that set off a chain of events that changed her life. 

Rollins, then a senior at a New Jersey high school, was already University of Virginia-bound. It’s just that, while sitting among friends at the bookstore, she was curious about what opportunities she could pursue once she arrived on Grounds in the fall. 

The longtime competitive dancer typed “Virginia dance team auditions” into a search bar – and “it was literally the best decision that I’ve ever made,” Rollins said. 

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After hustling down to Charlottesville the following week to participate in tryouts, Rollins went on to become a four-year performer and captain of the UVA Dance Team. The experience she gained within that program is still benefitting her six years later, in two major ways. 

Rollins is now a veteran member of the Washington Wizards dance team, and she’s close to becoming a fully certified speech language pathologist. 

The latter role, which is being developed during Rollins’ clinical fellowship at The Speech Space in Washington, was first introduced to her as a possibility while at UVA. Several of her dance teammates and a coach were enrolled in the speech communication disorders program within UVA’s School of Education and Human Development. 

“I wanted to know what was up with this speech thing and why everyone was doing it,” Rollins said. “My major was undecided at the time, and they told me, ‘I think you’d good be really good at speech. You should look into it.’”

Rollins declared speech communications disorders as her major as a second-year student and graduated from the program in 2021. She’s since received her master’s degree in speech language pathology from George Washington University and has been with The Speech Space, a pediatric speech therapy and occupational therapy practice, for the past nine months. 

It’s been a steady, rewarding rise into a profession that is celebrated Saturday, National Speech and Language Pathologist Appreciation Day

Rollins holding up a book and smiling

Rollins works at The Speech Space in Washington, a pediatric speech therapy and occupational therapy practice where children’s books and games are often part of her day. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“I love my job,” Rollins said. “I’m so grateful it turned out the way it did.”

Rollins’ life now is not all that different from when she was at UVA. During the day, she’s sharpening her skills as a speech pathologist. And at night, during the NBA season, she’s contributing as a member of a dance team. 

The schedule can be overwhelming if you’re not used to it. 

“Virginia Dance Team made me better with time management,” Rollins said. “Because if you weren’t five minutes early (to practice), you were late and running or doing push-ups or something. So, it taught me to be disciplined. I cared enough to make it work.

“I was able to do both (speech language pathologist training and dance team) in college, which helped me to be able to do both out in the real world.”

At The Speech Space, her clients range from 18 months to 9 years old, an age group that gives Rollins – a self-admitted “child forever in my heart” – tremendous joy. She treats speech, language, social communication and cognitive communication disorders with a creative approach. It’s not unusual for Rollins to spend her day playing a card game like “UNO” with an older child or a board game such as “Hoot Owl Hoot” with a younger child. 

“It’s a cooperative game,” Rollins said of “Hoot Owl Hoot.” “So, we’re working together to get the owls home before the sun comes up. 

“And a lot of times I’m just doing speech sounds with that. It’s usually with neurotypical kids, just working on articulation, whether it’s ‘th’ or ‘s’ or whatever their sound may be. That’s just a good way to keep them engaged while we’re practicing our sounds.”

Working with children can be draining, Rollins admitted, but can also provide her with an injection of life and energy. 

Rollins in dance gear for UVA on the left and dance gear for the Nationals on the right
Rollins was introduced to speech language pathology through a few of her teammates on the UVA Dance Team. (Photo by Matt Riley, University Communications)

“It’s just wild to me that I’ve been entrusted with this job, which is so important because it’s about their ability to communicate in the world,” she said. “I take it very seriously and it’s honestly a privilege to get to work with these kids. It’s just so cool that I get to do it.”

As Rollins continues to grow as a speech language pathologist, she has no plans to cut back on her dancing endeavors. Since juggling both at UVA, she’s found the two roles complement one another. 

“I’m a people person,” Rollins said. “Working so closely with people in my day job has made me a better brand ambassador and more approachable when I’m representing the Wizards. 

“It’s funny how these different parts of my life have meshed together.” 

Media Contact

Andrew Ramspacher

University News Associate University Communications