October 2018 marked the 10th anniversary of the Student Academy of Audiology (SAA). In the past decade, the student organization has become the strongest, most unified representation of the audiology student population. 

The Past 

The first and original student audiology organization was not the SAA. The National Association of Future Doctors of Audiology (NAFDA), founded in 1998 at the University of Louisville by Delbert Ault, was an independent audiology student organization. In an Audiology Online interview, Ault stated, 

NAFDA’s primary purpose and mission is to create a communication opportunity among all doctoral audiology programs for the students, the professionals, the manufacturers, and the audiology community at large. Additionally, the NAFDA provides academic benefits for audiologists by connecting the students with the professors, the researchers and real-world clinicians. So, in essence, the NAFDA provides a conduit for the profession, allowing students access to clinicians, researchers, and professors.

Fast-forward nine years later to the NAFDA Board under the leadership of Erin Coomes and Collin Griffin. That Board put in many hours discussing the future of audiology and how to provide the best opportunities for students. Through meaningful discussions between the NAFDA and American Academy of Audiology (Academy), a merger was identified as a clear way to provide more mentorship, professional development, and educational opportunities to audiology students. 

In total, the formation, merging, and structuring of the SAA took a little more than two years to complete. At the time of the merger, Linnea Schrowang and Brian Vesely became the first vice president and president of the Student Academy of Audiology respectively. It was their belief that we, as a profession, are stronger together. Building on this philosophy, SAA continues to evolve and develop to meet the ever-changing needs of students and our profession.

Since the merger between NAFDA and the SAA 10 years ago, the SAA has grown rapidly. The inaugural Board of Directors of the SAA in 2009 oversaw the development of our mission statement, the creation of the SAAy Anything e-newsletter, and an initial governance structure. 

In 2010–2011, we established our first committees and they, along with our volunteers, undoubtedly have been a crucial component of the SAA’s success. From the beginning, the SAA Board offered the membership many unique opportunities to be involved at the national level, distinguishing itself from other student organizations. Throughout the next few years, strategic partnerships within the Academy were established that offered students opportunities for scholarships through the AAA Foundation and participation in hearing screenings with Special Olympics Healthy Hearing. Student-specific programming at the Academy’s annual conference also has been a major focus and even resulted in the development of the first annual SAA Conference in 2013 to provide educational sessions for all students. The conference depends on many professional volunteers to share case studies, clinical tips, and research information with interested students. 

The Present 

Today, the national SAA coordinates more than 100 active undergraduate and graduate student volunteers who share knowledge, plan events, create resources, and provide educational opportunities for audiology students. The dedication and talent of these volunteers has helped to swell national SAA membership.

In June 2010, the SAA had 1,300 national members and 45 chapters. Today, our membership is about 2,000 students and we are happy to have representation at 72 universities. This growth represents the relevance of the SAA in audiology students’ classrooms and clinics across the country.

The SAA gained this relevance through many legacy advocacy and humanitarian initiatives, including National Day at Your State Capitol Day, our exclusive partnership with Special Olympics Healthy Hearing, and the Ask Me About Audiology campaign. These events encourage students to share their knowledge and skills with legislators, organizations, universities, and their communities.

In recent years, the SAA has created numerous new programs that have shown extreme benefit to students. In an effort to prepare students to lead in an uncertain professional climate, SAA developed its first annual Student Leaders in Audiology Conference (SLAC) at the Academy’s 2017 annual conference! This inaugural SLAC focused on developing leaders through informational and inspirational talks, networking, and leadership activities. 

The SAA also piloted a new humanitarian opportunity that recruits SAA members to volunteer for a week at the Red Bird Mission. Under the supervision of volunteer audiologists, SAA members provide hearing screenings and services for rural Appalachia, where there is little access to specialty health care and widespread poverty.

The SAA has accomplished much in the past 10 years and many dedicated volunteers remain loyal to SAA’s focus on the future of the profession.

The Future 

With the current audiology climate changing rapidly, and many internal and external threats to the profession, the SAA has become even more strategic with its planning. It is our goal to ensure new students are recruited into the profession, diverse subsets of membership are heard and recognized, and all students feel a unified mission toward a promising future.

The SAA State Ambassadors program highlights one student volunteer in each state, mentored by a seasoned professional, to coordinate all SAA members and chapters in that state in order to work toward common advocacy and education goals. Change happens on a local level and the SAA State Ambassadors have proved instrumental in creating change within their state. Last year, the SAA had seven State Ambassadors. This year, we have 22 State Ambassadors. We plan to continue to expand the program until all the states with audiology students have representation. 

Since its beginning, the SAA has focused on meeting the needs of various subpopulations; first, with PhD students, then working to change the bylaws to allow undergraduate membership in 2012, and again in 2017 to allow postbaccalaureate students to join. Also, with the creation of our Students with Hearing Loss and Education and Externship task forces, the SAA has made incredible progress in addressing concerns for subsets of our membership. And we will continue to do so.

Conclusion

The SAA has many goals that change and transform as new leadership enters the Board of Directors. There are many things, however, that have not and will not change as the SAA continues to gain momentum. 

First, the SAA has always been an organization of, for, and by audiology students. We, the students, direct our goals and plans, rely on our cohort, and work to make audiology students the most promising aspect of our future.

Second, the SAA continues to act as a supplement to academic programs by providing networking opportunities, information, research, and ideas outside of each university. As no two audiology programs are the same, the SAA works to continuously expose students to new ideas and experiences from other universities.

The SAA is the future of audiology. Investment in students is a worthwhile investment in the future of our profession. We could not do what we do without the significant investment of many industry supporters, as well as many professionals who volunteer their time to mentor and advise students at the local or national level.

Many well-known audiologists began their path to leadership through the NAFDA and SAA boards. Accordingly, through the dedication and hard work of student volunteers, the SAA truly has become a professional home for audiology students. We are excited to see what the next 10 years will bring!