The United States is home to a racially, ethnically, and culturally diverse population. In contrast, there is remarkably little diversity among audiologists. Drs. Jessica Sullivan and Lauren Calandruccio are determined to help change that. Dr. Sullivan is an Assistant Professor and interim Department Chair in the Department of Communicative Sciences and Disorders at Hampton University (Hampton), and Dr. Calandruccio is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and the Louis D. Beaumont University Professor II at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU). Together they started the Innovative Mentoring and Professional Advancement through Cultural Training (IMPACT) program for undergraduate speech-language pathology and audiology students. This collaborative inter-institutional program between CWRU and Hampton provides research training, communication skills development, networking opportunities, and professional coaching through valuable mentorship experiences that prepare students for graduate school. The Hearing Journal met with the IMPACT program co-founders to learn about the program.
Q: How did you meet, and how did the IMPACT program get started?
Calandruccio: In 2008, Jessica and I both received the Audiology Research Travel Award (ARTA) to attend the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) Convention. We met at an ARTA event. We are both audiologists with a special interest in speech perception, and we attend many of the same national meetings and service events. We are also both passionate mentors who love our students, so we found ourselves bouncing ideas off each other on how to best mentor our students.
Sullivan: Several years ago, one of Lauren’s students was the subject of a racist slur during her clinical placement. Lauren reached out to me for advice about how to best counsel this student. During our conversation, we talked about the challenges our students of color face during their educational programs. It’s very competitive to get into audiology, and students of color are often counselled out of going into the field. We kept having the same conversation and started brainstorming how we could build a program that would respond to this overt discriminatory practice, empower students, and help them better prepare for graduate school and the biases they will face at their schools and in the clinic.
Q: How did you find financial support for the IMPACT program?
Sullivan: In the Spring of 2020, we wrote a proposal for the ASHA Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) grant mechanism, which has an annual grant competition that supports a broad range of different multicultural activities. We submitted the grant application before the COVID shutdown and before the social justice movements that followed the death of George Floyd, but our application was reviewed after these events. In that context, our proposal was very timely. With the initial funding from ASHA, the IMPACT program was launched, and our first cohort of IMPACT Fellows–five students from CWRU and five students from Hampton–entered the program in September 2020.
Calandruccio: The first year of the IMPACT program consisted of 12 virtual events. We held six virtual family dinners, where the students met and networked with professionals in audiology and speech-language pathology who are also people of color. We also held virtual tours of premiere research facilities provided by our program partners (Boys Town National Research Hospital and the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department at the University of Pittsburgh), two cultural empathy book clubs, and writing workshops. All IMPACT Fellows worked together to manage the IMPACT program’s Instagram account to gain experience with professional skills development. They also worked with a writing coach throughout the year and received GRE preparation materials.
Q: How are you continuing to support the IMPACT program after that initial grant expired?
Calandruccio: We had an opportunity to talk about the IMPACT program with the LaCalle Group, the parent company of Simucase and Continued. The company was so impressed with the success of our students who completed the program that they provided funding to keep the program going into 2022. The best part of this new partnership is that the LaCalle Group is not just footing the bill, but helping us grow experiences for our students to further widen their mentor and ally network.
Q: How do students apply to the IMPACT program?
Calandruccio: There is an application form which includes an essay followed by an interview. When students are accepted, they agree to attend every single event.
Q: What does the future of IMPACT look like?
Sullivan: The IMPACT program will continue to take on a different shape as COVID restrictions are lifted and we are allowed to have in-person gatherings. Until then, we will continue to hold virtual events to build a mentoring network for our students. Eventually, we hope to have all IMPACT Fellows together in person at both of our universities.
Q: Why is diversity important when mentoring students?
Calandruccio: Something we considered when developing the IMPACT program was that students of color often feel isolated and lack a sense of belonging at Primarily White Institutions (PWIs). One thing we wanted to do was provide a broader network of professionals for our students at CWRU. This is a huge benefit of pairing with Hampton, an Historically Black College and University (HBCU). Jessica and I work as a team and bring different things to the table. Jessica has a unique perspective from my own. As a Black audiologist, she is able to offer a perspective to my students that I can’t.
Sullivan: I feel like it’s my obligation to mentor and support the next generation of Black audiology students and show them there is a place for them in our professional community. They can be successful in this space because they have aptitude and passion to serve those who are hard-of-hearing.
Q: What is your favorite part of the IMPACT program?
Sullivan: One of the core pieces is our virtual family dinners. Last year, the IMPACT Fellows heard from 12 guest speakers. They were taught how to network, encouraged to look for new opportunities, and supported to apply for those opportunities. Many of the IMPACT Fellows gained the confidence to apply for research experiences and leadership positions. For example, IMPACT Fellow alumna Gabby Howard is the President-Elect for National NSSLHA.
Calandruccio: All of the IMPACT meetings provide a safe space for IMPACT Fellows to discuss their struggles with racism, hunger, poverty, gender, and other issues that intersect with their professional goals. Some of the hardships and challenges that we discuss are only faced by some of the Fellows, but listening to each other with intention helps to foster understanding and change all of our perspectives.
Q: How can hearing healthcare educators identify opportunities to promote diversity and cultural competence within their profession?
Calandruccio: In the classroom, try to make all students feel included and work to create an inclusive environment. Include a diversity and inclusion statement in your syllabus and strive to weave diversity throughout each lecture. For example, if you are only using pictures of Caucasian ears, take the time to find new pictures. Being a diversity, inclusion, and equity ally is a lifelong commitment. This isn’t about one lecture or one class; it’s a decision to make diversity, equity, and inclusion a priority for our classrooms and profession. We cannot provide the best hearing healthcare for all people through one perspective.
Q: What if a class/program doesn’t have any students of color?
Calandruccio: My advice would be to attend events on campus hosted by diverse student groups (e.g., the Black Student Association or similar) and tell students about our profession. Listen to the students’ interests and goals. When you see an alignment with their professional interests and audiology, invite them out to lunch and tell them about your passion for hearing health care.
Q: Why is diversity within the audiology and speech pathology workforce important?
Sullivan: Our profession should reflect what America and your patients look like and that’s not what we’re currently reflecting. If you look at the latest census data, you can see that the United States is quite colorful and we don’t see that in audiology. Diseases that are co-morbid with hearing loss disproportionately affect the African American community, and they have some of the lowest hearing aid uptake rates in the country. It’s important to look at community data so we can do more to get people the hearing health care services they need. Also, as we’re putting more focus on patient-centered health care, that should include some cultural empathy efforts.