The 24th annual Route 66 Conference on Communication Disorders was held at The University of Tulsa on March 1, 2019. Madaline Ross and Anna Petersen, two undergraduate speech-language pathology students, co-chaired this well-attended event. Participants included professionals in the field, TU students, alumni, non-TU students and TU faculty.
The keynote speaker was Joan Arvedson, PhD, CCC-SLP, BCS-S, an internationally renowned clinician and teacher on feeding and swallowing. The TU Student Speech Language Hearing Association (TUSSLHA) the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) co-sponsored the conference.
Ross and Petersen – both of whom moved from St. Louis to study at TU – were invited to co-chair Route 66 after getting involved in TUSSLHA. Ross began attending the association’s meetings as a freshman, and by her junior year she was elected treasurer. When elections came around for her senior year, Professor Kris Foyil asked her co-chair the conference.
Petersen, a junior who is also majoring in sociology, was planning to run for a TUSSLHA executive position in 2019, hoping to be asked to chair Route 66 in 2020. Instead, she received an email from Foyil inviting her to co-chair the 2019 conference. “It’s just one of those opportunities you can’t pass up,” Petersen said.
Being a True Blue leader doesn’t happen overnight. It requires considerable dedication and ingenuity.
Ross and Petersen began researching speakers and planning Route 66 a year in advance. Foyil oversaw the execution but entrusted the two students with full responsibility. Both Ross and Petersen gained a wide range of new skills beyond what they learn in the classroom, including professional communication, networking and organizational abilities. Both Ross and Petersen also pointed to the need to balance the “big picture” with the “tight schedule” a day-long conference requires.
As she reflected on the experience of co-organizing the Route 66 conference, Petersen observed, “I was treated more like a professional than I anticipated throughout this process. I expected to be communicating with our supervisor more and for her to do more. But, really, we did it on our own and I learned about my ability to be treated as an adult and as someone who knows what they are talking about in the context of the field.” Despite all the hard work, Ross said, “it was a great experience and I wish I could do it again.”
Next year, however, it is likely Ross will attend the event in her new role as a graduate student. Just a week before the conference, Ross found out she had been accepted into TU’s prestigious Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program. “I decided to go to TU graduate school because of the professors and the opportunities in the clinic here,” said Ross. She is currently working with her own client in TU’s Mary K. Chapman Speech and Hearing Clinic. In the future, Ross hopes to focus her career on helping children.
Petersen, meanwhile, is looking forward to starting her senior year in the undergraduate program and having her own client as well. She has already been asked to co-chair the 25th-anniversary Route 66 conference and is eager to plan another successful event. In addition, she intends to apply to enter the speech-language pathology master’s program and become part of the Class of 2022.
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