ASHA Minority Student Leadership Program: A Student’s Perspective

Published in the March 2024 issue of the ISHA Voice.

By Angela M. Riccelli and Danielle Osmelak

Xochitl Regalado, a graduate student at Governors State University (GSU), was selected to participate in ASHA’s Minority Student Leadership Program (MSLP), class of 2023. Xochitl was one of forty undergraduate seniors, graduate, and clinical doctoral students who was selected out of a competitive national selection process to participate in the MSLP. Per ASHA, the MSLP is a leadership development program for communication sciences and disorders (CSD) program students in order to recruit and retain racial/ethnic minorities that have been historically underrepresented in the field of CSD and to provide educational programming to build and enhance leaderships skills, while learning about how ASHA works.

Now in her second year of graduate school, Xochitl, holds several titles, including President of the National Student Speech Language & Hearing Association (NSSLHA), Changemaker Fellow of the Great Lakes FAST Fund Consortium, and Library Assistant at GSU.  She strives to make a lasting impact across campus and is highly motivated to support and encourage individuals to find their voice. Recently, Xochitl sat down for an interview with her professors, Dr. Danielle Osmelak and Dr. Angela Riccelli, to talk about the opportunity that took her to Boston, Massachusetts, and reflect on her once-in-lifetime experience.

Why did you apply for the Minority Student Leadership (MSLP) program? What were you hoping to learn and/or achieve within the MSLP program?

I had not heard of the program until one of my professors, encouraged me to apply. That semester, my confidence towards my leadership abilities was growing and I wanted to interact with other likeminded individuals within the field, finetune my leadership qualities, and have more involvement within ASHA. I was excited about the opportunity to learn from and work with other minority student leaders as well as bring more exposure to the work being done at GSU from myself and as a department.

What supports were provided to you to attend the MSLP and the 2023 ASHA convention?

Throughout my time at GSU I have received a lot of guidance from my professors, related to different levels of my academic and professional development, and participating in MSLP was no different. Leading up to the event, whenever I had a question about what I could expect at the convention, my professors helped calm my nerves and erase any “imposter syndrome” I was feeling. When I struggled to believe in myself and my accomplishments, they were there to lend a hand. There was a professor in particular who supported me in my professional presentation before and during the convention, and I will be eternally grateful to her.  At the convention, all of us in the MSLP received endless support from Megan-Brette Hamilton and Melanie Johnson and because of them it will be an experience I never forget.

What were your expectations before you attend the MSLP and how did they algin with your actual experience?

We received a pretty structured outline of what the program was going to be like a few weeks before heading to Boston and I had a pretty good idea of what we would be doing each day. I knew what time I had to arrive at the convention center, how long each session would last, and what time we finished each day, but I did not realize how well thought out and involved each session would be. Not a moment throughout our day was spent in vain, we were continuously learning about the intricacies of becoming a competent, compassionate, and diligent leader within speech-language pathology, our everyday lives/interactions, and ASHA.

Every day we gained a new nugget of information about what type of leader we are, the current skills we have that make us good leaders, and what we can learn from each other to be more competent after our time together.

What were your experiences within the other MSLP students in attendance?

I met so many amazing people from my week with the MSLP! Every day I tried to interact with someone because we all had different experiences that brought us to the program as well as to the field of speech pathology and audiology. The coordinators of the MSLP mentioned pairing the students who roomed together based off essays that we submitted. My favorite part of the day was coming back to my hotel room and talking with my roommate, Natasha, about what we each learned that day, what tables we went to, who we spoke with, and our groups’ presentation progress. It’s been a couple months since we’ve all returned home from the convention, but we still keep in contact. Recently, I managed to see another MSLP recipient at this years’ Illinois Speech Language & Hearing Association (ISHA) convention where I competed on the Knowledge Quest team for my university. While spread across the country and at different levels of education, I plan to keep the channels of communication going between other MSLP students, now friends, for years to come.

How would you describe your MSLP experience to potential CSD students who may be interested in applying in the future?

My experience with the MSLP is one I will never forget. It was filled with learning experiences that may only come once in a lifetime. We were able to meet with the current, future, and most recent Presidents of ASHA, attend topic-specific seminars, and meet some of the most innovative professionals within our field. I gained a deeper understanding and appreciation of my skills as a leader that not only takes her experiences into account but also is open and willing to hear the perspectives of others. Society is always evolving, but at times, for minority students, it feels like we are stuck in the same pattern or role we have been placed in for years. The MSLP was a great experience for developing my leadership abilities, but it runs much deeper than that. As a minority within the speech-language pathology field, and society as a whole, this program allowed me to become comfortable and proud of my status as a minority student leader. I decided that I was done sitting in the back while waiting for other people with louder voices to speak out and do the work. I encourage any individual who doubts their skill set and voice as a student leader to apply to the program and embark on a new stage in their life.

What specific leadership skills or qualities did you focus on during the program, and how were these skills addressed in the context of the field of CSD?

I always strive to be the best version of myself that I can be and my week with the MSLP was no different. The two leadership qualities I focused on during the program were authenticity and decisiveness. Both qualities are important to me within the context of communication disorders as well as in my personal life. We were presented with different scenarios that talked about what we as minority student leaders could do to make an impact within our field. We discussed how important it is that we continue on within speech-language pathology and insert ourselves at different levels (i.e., county, state, and national) to ensure that minority voices are being heard. I wanted to become more comfortable in my skills as a leader to act on the qualities that I value most, as a student clinician. We were given a foundation and a network that we can pull from as we continue on our path as future speech-language pathologists and audiologists.

Describe an experience you had within the MSLP that you were proud of.

The students within the MSLP were tasked with gathering information for and creating a cohesive presentation about a specific topic within our scope of practice. Each group was given multiple resources, in the form of articles, research, and professionals within the field. Interspersed between the MSLP sessions, we spent a lot of time gathering information, meeting with MSLP alums, networking with other speech and audiology professionals, and attending sessions all to obtain the most relevant information about our presentation topic. On our last day of the program, we presented our results to the other MSLP students and a panel of judges. This was my proudest moment from the week because I was able to eloquently share what I and my group had learned about our topic over the course of a week. I boldly met with the specialists of my groups’ topic (i.e., current and well-known clinicians and researchers within our field) and asked questions and gathered feedback on my ideas.

How do you think the program has influenced your personal and professional growth, especially in the context of the mission of the MSLP?

After participating in the MSLP, I have a greater respect and confidence for myself, my voice, and the voices of other minority student leaders. I was given the opportunity to participate in a program that allowed me to interact with current and future leaders within the field of speech language pathology and audiology. I have a greater understanding and appreciation for all the work committees within ASHA are trying to do for the future of communication disorders and sciences.

There is still a lot of work to be done, related to amplifying the voices of minority individuals within ASHA and creating assessments which include the historically under-represented minority population of our society. However, the MSLP and its leaders are doing a great job of making students like myself feel more appreciated and heard within ASHA.