I first encountered the field of CSD when I was 23 years old. At the time, I’d earned a bachelor’s degree in voice performance and was in the market for a new career—ideally, in a helping profession. My mom, in her infinite wisdom, suggested that I consider speech-language pathology. I immediately ran with the idea—I applied and was accepted to a post-baccalaureate program to bridge the gap between my undergraduate and graduate school aspirations.
Although my post-baccalaureate program coursework often felt overwhelming, I became increasingly aware that it was only a small part of the CSD student experience. I also juggled work, clinical observations, research opportunities, legislative advocacy, extracurricular involvement, and community volunteering. I wanted to immerse myself in everything the field had to offer—including becoming a National NSSLHA member.
National NSSLHA’s many resources and opportunities offered me an easy way to navigate this new world and eventually led to National NSSLHA student leadership opportunities—a result of coincidence, encouragement, and support from others. By chance, I met a member of the National NSSLHA Executive Council during a graduate program open house. He told me about his experience as a student leader and encouraged me to apply to the several positions that were open. My hearing science professor—to whom I owe my shift in focus from speech-language pathology to audiology—recommended me for the position.
My student leadership experience within National NSSLHA has allowed me to foster relationships with current and future professional leaders, cultivate leadership skills, and grow both as a person and an emerging professional. I’m currently in the final year of my graduate program in audiology, completing my externship at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. I’m a commissioned officer in the United States Army, working every day to provide hearing healthcare to military service members, veterans, and their families.
Although my time as a National NSSLHA student leader has been unique, it has most definitely not been uniquely rewarding. Check out what some former National NSSLHA student leaders have gone on to accomplish too . . .
Jordan Girola, CF-SLP
Jordan is completing her Clinical Fellowship at two school sites through a private practice. She’s working at both a high school and elementary school, which allows her a vast scope to grow the tools in her toolbox. Jordan’s also a board committee member of her state association.
“Holding my position stretched me outside of my comfort zone. Never in my life did I imagine leading an organization at the national level. Before my role started, I lacked confidence and public speaking skills. My experience allowed me to blossom—growing my leadership skills, finding my voice, and making connections. These skills have stayed with me as I now lead IEP meetings, reach out to parents, and collaborate with staff members and other service providers. It’s given me the confidence to build meaningful connections with my clients.”
Natalie Sfeir, CF-SLP
2019-2021 VP for GAPP, 2018-2019 Texas SLP SSO
Natalie is currently completing her Clinical Fellowship in an acute care setting. Last summer, she completed a social advocacy internship in Washington, D.C., and continues her advocacy work to this day. Natalie’s a member of her state association’s Social and Government Affairs Board and she’ll be presenting research on advocating for Medicare beneficiaries at their conference this spring.
“My time with National NSSLHA has helped me truly understand the meaning of ‘advocacy.’ It can manifest itself in many ways—advocating for the profession, patients, interdisciplinary care teams, and yourself. My position granted me opportunities to utilize my communication skills and explore advocacy at the national level. I was able to step out of my comfort zone and take advantage of opportunities that were (and still are!) available to me.”
Rebecca Willer, CF-SLP
2019-2021 VP for SLP Programming, 2018-2019 Wisconsin AuD SSO
After making the switch from a pediatric outpatient facility, Rebecca is now finishing her Clinical Fellowship year at a private school in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She continues her leadership development as a member of her state association’s membership committee.
“My leadership roles provided me opportunities to network with professionals and peers from a variety of backgrounds and settings. These individuals served as invaluable mentors throughout my educational and professional journey–helping me identify the setting I’d like to work in and ensuring that my Clinical Fellowship experience is successful. Without the opportunity to gain their guidance and advice, I wouldn’t have had the courage to branch out and accept my current CF position.”
Kevante Drew, CF-SLP
2020-2021 Tennessee SLP SSO
As Kevante completes his Clinical Fellowship at a skilled nursing facility, he continues to work closely with his S.T.E.P. mentor to learn more about providing speech-language pathology services within the medical setting.
“Being the TN SLP SSO helped me gain confidence in my leadership and networking skills. I’ve been able to build relationships with a mobile FEES company and lead the nursing staff in an educational journey to help them understand the benefits of FEES.”
Caitlin Cloud, CF-SLP
2020-2021 Colorado SLP SSO
Caitlin is completing her Clinical Fellowship at a non-profit critical access hospital in Washington state. She’s a volunteer with the Northwest Augmentative Communication Society, her state association, and the Motor Speech Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, where she attended as a grad student. Caitlin has presented research with her mentor, Dr. Allison Hilger, at the ASHA Convention, the Colorado Speech-Language-Hearing Association’s annual conference, and the Brain Injury Alliance of Colorado’s annual Brain Injury Symposium.
“Serving as the CO SLP SSO built my confidence in advocating for myself, my profession, and my patients. It allowed me to grow my professional network, build friendships, learn from my peers and established professionals, and improve my leadership skills while collaborating with my state NSSLHA chapters. But serving with National NSSLHA provided even more than that—it helped me see that leadership is not based on a specific role or title. It’s about our actions and how we show up for ourselves, our colleagues, and our patients . . . every single day.”
2020-2021 IDEA Work Group
Meridith is completing her externship at an elementary school where she designs lesson plans for literacy-based intervention. She’s also working on a project for her master’s degree program that focuses on language-based literacy intervention using Spanish-English children’s books written by Black, Indigenous authors of color.
“Thanks to my role within the IDEA Work Group, I connected with students across the country on the topic of diversity, equity, and belonging in CSD. This led to us continuing these conversations in a cross-university podcast club, where we discuss themes like identity, intersectionality, microaggressions, and misogynoir.”
Sarah Salazar, CF-SLP
2020-2021 IDEA Work Group
Since Sarah’s term ended, she’s graduated with her master’s degree in speech-language pathology (“si se puede!”) and now works at an elementary school in Cicero, Illinois (an urban suburb of Chicago), as a bilingual SLP. The student body is 95% Latino/a and more than half speak Spanish at home or in their dual-language classrooms.
“I’m fortunate to have been a part of the IDEA Work Group’s inaugural cohort. To this day, we continue to exchange research articles, webinars, and resources with each other. These friendships and exchanges help me think critically about the materials I use in therapy and during assessment. I’m filled with hope when I remember that we helped plant the seeds for appreciating diversity, equity, and action within CSD.”
You have so much to offer this profession—take advantage of the National NSSLHA student leadership opportunities that are available to you. They really could be just the opportunity you need to gain more confidence, expand your voice, grow your network, and open doors to other potential opportunities!
Applications for National NSSLHA’s Executive Council, Student State Officers, and the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Action (IDEA) Work Group are now open. Take a look at National NSSLHA’s website for details about each position, and don’t hesitate to reach out to current or previous student leaders if you’d like to learn more about their first-hand experiences!