When I walked through the doors at the 2012 ASHA Convention in Atlanta, I had no idea what to expect. I was drawn there for the opportunity to go beyond departmental walls and delve further into topics that interest me. I was excited to meet students from other institutions and learn of their experiences. Long before I ever reached those convention hall doors, however, I faced obstacles to attending that I know other students encounter.
Looking at the total costs of the convention—registration fees, travel, meals and hotel—was overwhelming. I knew there had to be ways to cut costs to make attending more affordable and achievable, and there were: I applied to be a student volunteer. Through this arrangement, ASHA waives your convention fee in exchange for working one day during convention.
But after accepting a volunteer position, I realized I knew no one. Being in a strange city alone and rooming by myself sounded like the makings of a criminal investigation show. I was relieved to learn about the ASHA housing board, where people post information to find roommates for convention. Before I logged on, I was convinced I was the only one in this situation. It turned out there were many pages of people looking for roommates. There were rooms with pairs grouped together and rooms with students all from different universities. Via the board, I found a roommate—a speech-language pathologist who works with adolescents in a juvenile detention center. At first I was wary, but rooming with a professional allowed me to pick her brain and I had a friendly face to help me navigate the convention labyrinth. By having a roommate, I was able to cut costs and have a dinner buddy every night.
I'm grateful I was chosen to be a volunteer because it gave me the opportunity to network and to learn more about my chosen field. The night before my assigned date, I met other students at the volunteer orientation. There is a unique camaraderie among students in communication sciences and disorders that allows you to have an instant connection with others. Even though we were strangers, we never ran out of things to talk about.
I learned that many had the convention paid for through fundraising by their local National Student Speech Language Hearing Association chapter and travel grants from their university. Volunteering offered an inside look at the workings of convention. I saw how much effort ASHA staff members made to plan the convention, and I felt I made an impact by assisting convention attendees.
Although attending sessions was at the top of my to-do list, I was worried that everything would be aimed at professionals already in the field. Luckily, I visited the NSSLHA corner before convention started and learned otherwise. A printed convention guide for students listed each day's student-friendly meetings, events and sessions.
The highlight was all the NSSLHA day activities. I attended sessions on scholarship opportunities and graduate school writing skills. I ended up going to the NSSLHA luncheon with the students I met in the sessions. The luncheon tables were arranged by region, so I met other students from my area, too. At the luncheon I learned what other NSSLHA chapters were doing to help CSD students on their campuses.
Attending convention was one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic career. I would encourage any student with the opportunity to attend. In addition to listening to fascinating talks by the greatest minds in the field, and being inspired by guest speakers such as Maya Angelou and Gabby Giffords, you get to be a part of a unique atmosphere.
Everyone at convention has a passion for what they do and are eager to share what they know. With all the opportunities to meet new people, you shouldn't be apprehensive about attending by yourself. Don't regret missing out on this unique experience!