When I first mentioned to a colleague—a long-standing ASHA member—that we were engaged in a dialogue about the integration of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) and ASHA, she replied, "I thought NSSLHA was already a part of ASHA." Well, just because this wasn't yet true doesn't mean it was a bad idea. Sometimes perception is reality.
Over the years, representatives from ASHA and NSSLHA have come together to consider strategies for developing capacity, attracting more and more diverse students, and efficiently and successfully addressing the needs of students and professionals in responsive ways. ASHA is a member-driven association, and thus ASHA initiatives reflect the interests and anticipate the needs of its members across professions and disciplines.
At the heart of the discipline's growth are the students who will be the future scientists, service providers, and members of the association. ASHA has been considering ways in which we could better support NSSLHA in engaging a more comprehensive representation of communication sciences and disorders students, particularly audiology and doctoral students and students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Given the overlap in our missions and our shared goals related to student recruitment and professional development, it seemed that integrating these organizations was a logical and compelling next step in our progression and growth.
Our joint vision is that the NSSLHA Executive Council will continue as a working board chiefly responsible for addressing and developing programs to meet student needs, and NSSLHA will remain an autonomous, student-led organization. In addition, the student-chosen national advisor from the NSSLHA Executive Council will serve on the ASHA Board of Directors (BOD).
Megan Carey, 2011–2012 NSSLHA president, often poses these questions when she speaks to student groups about NSSLHA: Why do you want to be in this field? Why join NSSLHA? Why (someday) join ASHA? Megan feels the answer to all of these questions is the same: to increase awareness of communication disorders and to make a difference. The benefits of an ASHA-NSSLHA partnership are many and mutual, and the convergence of ASHA and NSSLHA will facilitate and foster avenues for networking and developing relationships among students and professionals. In addition, a larger number of students will have access to information about, benefits of, and resources of both organizations, providing students with a smoother transition into full ASHA membership.
By example, Megan and I met in August 2011 as part of a team formed to develop recommendations—approved by the NSSLHA Council in November 2011 and the ASHA BOD in December 2011—that formed the basis for the integration model. This decision was not arrived at capriciously. Rather, the team gave considerable weight to the responsibility we were undertaking. Megan and I had many candid discussions and maintained optimism about and gratitude for this opportunity to lead our associations to what we think will be an advantage for all our members.
Since then, Megan and I correspond regularly and have learned to appreciate each other's unique experiences. When she had questions about her clinical fellowship, she called me. When I was writing this article, I invited her to participate. We have discussed issues related to board management, leadership opportunities and training, balancing service activities with scholastic responsibilities, and even places to vacation. She has referred to me as her mentor, and with humility I strive to earn that title—but I have already learned more from her than I expect she will learn from me.
Megan shares, "Together we have established the importance of students' contributions to the association as well as the resources students have available through our mentors. These partnerships contribute to a lifetime of learning."
In the conversations about our roles as presidents of our respective organizations, I have the opportunity to reflect on my own mentors, as well as the talents our students bring to their work. Megan and I share a dedication to the professions, a devotion to service, and an affection for shoes.
Megan and her cohort represent the next generation of scholars, practitioners, and volunteer leaders—"Just as Shelly represents the strength, patience, and wisdom embodied in the current generation," Megan adds.
The integration of ASHA and NSSLHA will build significant opportunities for students and professionals alike and will become the new reality for understanding what it means to be an audiologist or a speech-language pathologist.