Trailblazing the Path for Online NSSLHA Chapters

Have you ever looked around and thought, “I have a few ideas to make this better?”

As I sat isolated in my living room last year … staring at my computer screen … about to start my 2nd year as a distance education SLP grad student … that’s exactly what I thought.

The two preceding years were hard and being an online student began to feel increasingly lonelier. I felt disconnected. My communications degree felt less like communication and more like excessive screen time. I knew it was time to start looking around for ways to make my experience better over the next two years.

And Then, A Lightbulb…

Along came NSSLHA emails; and with them, a link to National NSSLHA’s Student State Officer (SSO) applications. Curious, I probed around the website to see what NSSLHA was about and what SSOs did. I discovered that in order for a state to have an SSO, it needs chapters. Alaska—the biggest state in the union and filled with online students—did not have a NSSLHA chapter.

Discouraged, I nearly called it quits and slumped back into my island of isolation.

Fortunately, I didn’t stay on that island too long. I took a shot and emailed the National NSSLHA office about establishing an online chapter for Alaska—the very first! I got a reply from Sara Mischo, NSSLHA’s Program Manager, who encouraged me to blaze a trail for my dream Alaskan chapter. So, blaze I have!

Goal 1: Connect Students

Working together with Sara and the local directors of our master’s program in Alaska, we began to connect students from our undergraduate SLP minor, graduate-level distance education program partnered with East Carolina University, and our SLP post-baccalaureates through a Facebook group. Eventually, I attained an online Blackboard Classroom where I added all these students into one online “class.”

This was the start of our chapter!

Goal 2: Engage Chapter Members

In total, we had gathered about 30 chapter members. Next, I wanted them to engage and start building a community of support. I began to post practice Praxis questions for students to answer, helpful blog posts from the NSSLHA Blog, announcements for our monthly in-person meet-ups, and other useful resources for coursework and career building.

Goal 3: Show Up and Get Involved

One of the biggest challenges I had was convincing others that being a part of NSSLHA was good for them. I don’t consider myself a salesperson, so trying to “sell” the idea of why students should show up to our monthly meetings or apply for officer positions was challenging.

I’ve reaped the benefits of being a National NSSLHA member and I wanted others to benefit too; not just as students, but as future audiologists and speech-language pathologists. So, I decided to lead by example.

During this next academic year, I’ll be holding the office of President for our chapter. I’m looking forward to working with our other 7 officers to increase collaboration between members and work towards NSSLHA’s Chapter Honors.

Two of the biggest ideas we’re working on involve getting our chapter members together in-person. We plan on having in-person meetings once a month for students to come and learn from local SLP guest speakers, practice assessments, and share ways for us to get involved as a community of passionate CSD students here in Alaska. I also contacted the Alaska Speech-Language-Hearing Association (AKSHA) to request a booth at the AKSHA Convention in October—a prime place for us to gather!

Sometimes blazing a trail means crashing through the forest with your machete first, hoping others see a more inviting path and explore the new territory too. So, I’ll show up. I’ll be there with my metaphorical machete and hope it gives others the courage to follow.

Be the Change

Nothing worthwhile is easy, or everyone would do it. Have I broken down and cried this past year from the roadblocks and stress? Yes! Have I celebrated at having a full cabinet of students step up to hold officer positions our 1st year as an official chapter? Yes! The highs were so much better after shedding a few tears.

I believe in leaving a place better than how you found it. That’s why I’m choosing to spend the last two years of my Alaskan-based SLP program creating the community I longed for. By supporting students like me, we’re supporting the audiologists and speech-language pathologists of tomorrow.

Regardless of attending an online or in-person program, do you seek community in your studies? Don’t be afraid to reach out and make it happen! Go to that chapter meeting. Participate in chapter events. Join an online chat or conference call.

Be the change. NSSLHA supports you!

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