Guest Blog Post by Alexis Alviggi, President of NUSSLHA, 2020-2021
Being elected President of the Northeastern University graduate chapter of the National Student Speech-Language and Hearing Association (NUSSLHA) amidst a global pandemic, I knew that keeping our community connected would be no small feat. Thankfully, I have had a team of highly motivated, dedicated, and talented officers behind me to aid in building our organization whilst remaining committed to inspiring, empowering, and supporting the students in our chapter. As my fellow officers and I began our terms for the academic year, we collectively set a multitude of goals for our NUSSLHA chapter, which we knew would need to be targeted while being physically distanced. Although I knew it wouldn’t be easy, I felt incredibly called to step up in the wake of such a difficult time to lead and support my fellow students by whatever means necessary.
Our NUSSLHA chapter first set many goals that were philanthropic in nature. Understanding that many Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) were, and continue to be, at the frontlines of the pandemic, we knew that our organization had a duty to give back. Spearheaded by our Vice President, Sierra Still, our NUSSLHA chapter started a GoFundMe which raised money to create care packages for SLPs working in the greater Boston area. Thanks to the generosity of our donors, our organization was able to deliver care packages to many frontline SLPs, filled with items that would both recognize their contribution to saving lives and fuel them as they continue to serve our community. Additionally, pre-COVID, our beloved NUSSLHA faculty advisor, Dr. Therese O’Neil-Pirozzi (Dr. O), ran an initiative known as the Northeastern Homeless Shelter Storytelling Group. Each week Dr. O and a group of students would go to a local homeless shelter and prepare an hour-long event for the children. Since physically going to the shelter was no longer a possibility, I knew that we needed to get creative as to how to make this group happen virtually. Our NUSSLHA officers have been working with Dr. O to put together ‘parties’ centered around festive times of the year (i.e., Halloween, Winter Wonderland, Valentine’s Day, etc.) where the children can virtually attend and have some fun. At these events, we usually drop off goodie bags to the shelter filled with books, arts & crafts, toys, and of course some candy, which has been a great way to continue the work of such an important initiative and give back to the community.
Another priority of our NUSSLHA chapter this year was ensuring that students would feel connected and supported as a community, while remaining physically distanced. One way we were able to do this was by creating social mixers which served as a way for us to periodically check in with students, as well as give them a platform to mingle, chat, and even vent if needed. Whereas before the pandemic we might all meet up for a drink after class or a bite to eat after our clinical placements, these mixers have been a way for students to maintain a bit of normalcy and be social in a safe way. Another initiative we instated this year was the creation of monthly general body meetings for our chapter. These meetings, aimed at targeting themes within the lives of SLP graduate students, were a way for us to give a space to examine issues on which education and discussion were needed. Last fall, we had a meeting focused on Multiculturalism and Diversity within the field of SLP, where some of our students prepared an educational presentation, as well as facilitated an open discussion surrounding how to better support our clients and meet their diverse needs. Another meeting led by Jonathan Hammons, PhD student in School Psychology at Northeastern Unversity, included small group discussions surrounding mental health issues as a graduate student, including mindfulness and self-care. As our second-year students look ahead to graduation, we plan on hosting events aimed at professional development and networking, in addition to continuing to provide a virtual platform for social connection and community. As President of NUSSLHA, I sometimes find myself overwhelmed with the feeling that I could be doing more to support the peers I serve. However, I often remind myself of just how different this academic year has been and how many ways my fellow officers and I have tried to switch things up to meet the needs of our chapter while remaining safe. There’s no “how to” book on how to navigate a pandemic as a graduate student or how to lead and serve your peers virtually from your computer. However, I am so very proud of all that my officers and I have accomplished and all that we continue to do to inspire, empower, and support our chapter members. As I look ahead to my final months as President, I am excited to hand the baton off to the next group of leaders and I hope that all of the new initiatives we have created will continue to grow in the coming years. I long for the day when my peers and I can reunite in person on Northeastern’s campus, but until then, I will continue to do my best to keep our community thriving and connected, provide ongoing support to our members, and most importantly lead by example. If you haven’t already, please follow our NUSSLHA chapter @nusslha on Instagram to see all the amazing things we are doing! For more information about the National Student Speech-Language and Hearing Association, go to https://www.nsslha.org