| 4 April 2022

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Practicing Leadership Skills in Student Associations

TXAU PT Day of Service usahs

“It’s a leap of faith into something I’ve never done before. It’s a great opportunity for professional growth.” So says Doctor of Occupational Therapy (OTD) student James Irvine about his role as president of the Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA) on USAHS’ San Marcos campus.

For many students, participating in a professional association is a way to get involved with their peers, practice your leadership skills, and open new doors. USAHS has chapters on each campus for the major student associations connected to our entry-level programs.

“Getting involved seemed scary at first, with the time commitment—but it pays off,” Irvine says. “Being part of something that’s bigger than you can help you ground yourself. You get to see how things are run, and you can network and make connections.”

“It’s an experience you wouldn’t have otherwise until you get into the real world.”

For this post, we spoke with four student officers about why they’re involved—and what personal and professional benefits they’re gaining from the experience. These students are just a few of many who are involved in various organizations across the University’s five campuses.

Student Occupational Therapy Association (SOTA)

When a professor recommended that Irvine run for president of his SOTA chapter, he resisted at first due to his commitments at school and his job at a rehabilitation clinic. But after thinking about the possible growth opportunities within this role, Irvine decided to run—and he won. “If you have the opportunity for a leadership position, you should take it,” he says. Terms for SOTA officers are two trimesters long.

SOTA is the student section of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA). All USAHS OT students (including Flex) are automatically members of SOTA, but they must run for leadership positions. “Being an association member gives you the chance to earn the professional development hours you need for grad school,” Irvine says. “It’s also a way to connect with other students who are going through the same things as you are.”

“If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed, you can get a coffee with someone, connect, and be present.”

SOTA San Marcos student brings pumpkin-carving supplies to Fisher House San Diego in October 2021.

SOTA San Marcos student brings pumpkin-carving supplies to Fisher House San Diego in October 2021.

SOTA San Marcos Events

Following are examples of SOTA events and activities:

  • SOTA hosts monthly meetings with OT students to keep them up to date.
  • At Lunch and Learn events, USAHS alums and other practicing OTs dialogue with students about their career path.
  • The association manages a mentor/mentee program, where incoming OT students are paired with third-term or older students who can help with study skills and strategies.
  • SOTA San Marcos hosts regular events at Fisher House San Diego, which houses families of patients receiving care at an adjacent military facility.
  • In mid-March, SOTA produced the Get Up and Move 5K fundraiser, which raised $550 for the National Down Syndrome Association and Global Down Syndrome Association, and spread awareness of how occupational therapy can help this population.
  • In late March, SOTA and its physical therapy counterpart, SPTA, held a joint event for OT and PT students to mingle while enjoying food from a taco truck they brought to campus.
  • Irvine is collecting videos from OT students to create an OT Advocacy video.

National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA)

Clarissa Unale is the student president of NSSLHA for the Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS-SLP) program based on our campus in Austin, Texas. As president, “You gain organization, collaboration, and leadership skills, and more confidence in working with other professionals,” she says.

“You make decisions that will affect other cohorts down the line.”

NSSLHA is the student section of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). All MS-SLP students are required to join NSSLHA; membership costs $60 per year, but includes discounts on the SLP licensure exam, car insurance, and more.

Unale works closely with Sheryl-Rose Velasquez, president of NSSLHA on our Dallas campus. Says Velasquez, “I get to connect a lot with professors, especially our chapter advisors. It’s a great opportunity to put myself in an uncomfortable position and grow from it. I’ve learned to balance my workload, stay organized, and work with people who have different communication styles.”

Whereas the mostly virtual nature of the MS-SLP program can make it difficult to meet students from other cohorts, NSSLHA meetings include all cohorts. “You can have meaningful conversations across cohorts, and get and give advice,” says Velasquez. Chapter meetings are well-attended, with around 100 participants.

SOTA Miami participated in the American Heart Association Walk on March 13, 2022.

SOTA Miami participated in the American Heart Association Walk on March 13, 2022.

NSSHLA Austin & Dallas Events

Following are examples of NSSHLA events and activities:

  • Monthly speaker meetings feature working SLPs and other rehabilitative professionals.
  • At NSSHLA’s cultural nights, students bring a family recipe, make the dish, and talk about it while eating together on Zoom.
  • Last December, NSSHLA’s holiday party included a trivia game with prizes. Students created holiday cards for seniors in a nursing home.
  • Our students competed in the Praxis Bowl in late February. Hosted by the Texas Speech-Language-Hearing Association, this competition tests students’ knowledge of SLP practice in advance of the certification exam.
  • The group had a T-shirt made for our NSSLHA chapter. They hosted a chapter fundraiser, selling T-shirts and other swag.

Student Physical Therapy Association (SPTA)

“I have a deep caring about enhancing the DPT student experience,” says Nathalie Prior, communications chair of SPTA Flex on our Austin campus. “I wanted to see what this leadership opportunity was all about. I love collaboration and networking; I love to talk. I thought, why not use this gift I have—and apply it?”

A Flex Doctor of Physical Therapy student, Prior collaborates with Residential DPT students and with the SPTA chapters of other USAHS campuses and other Texas universities. She also attends meetings with leaders from SOTA and NSSHLA, as well as Flex leadership meetings.

“When you get involved, it snowballs, and you get friends involved,” she says. “You get faculty and alums involved as well. I’ve grown so much, learning elements of physical therapy I never knew about. I’m understanding better the advocacy part of PT—how to advocate for the profession and for students.”

“I truly love what I do. I want to learn how to grow more. I know I’m called here—I have a purpose.”

SPTA Dallas students “get pied” at a March fundraiser for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

SPTA Dallas students “get pied” at a March fundraiser for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.

SPTA Austin Events

Following are examples of SPTA events and activities:

  • SPTA leaders encourage all DPT students, not just officers, to get involved in leadership opportunities.
  • PT faculty and staff give “Austin Flex Talks” to DPT Flex students in the TED Talk model.
  • SPTA produces a newsletter with info about its activities and events.
  • The association posts on Instagram at “Flex-SPTA.”
  • In February, students wrote Valentine’s Day cards to take to assisted living facilities.

To learn more

For information about these associations and others, log in to MyUSA and click “Clubs & Orgs.”


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