Back to School: From Volunteer to Grad Student!

Back to School: From Volunteer to Grad Student!

Welcoming Mackenzie & Dana! Source: Mackenzie & Dana

Welcoming new volunteers, Mackenzie & Dana! Source: Mackenzie & Dana, 2015

Life has a funny way of introducing you to people. This is my story with Dana who volunteered at this Center during her senior year (2015-2016) at the Florida State University (FSU), my celebration of her graduation from the FSU School of Communication Science and Disorders, and  my cheering for her acceptance to graduate school, but that all comes later.

Each semester, this Center receives upward of 10 inquiries about volunteering or shadowing opportunities.  Each phone call or email is answered with the same response.  I thank the student for their interest in this Center and request a cover letter outlining what they can “bring to the Center” and what they hope to “take away”, a resume, and three references with contact information.

Sadly, these three requests eliminate seven of the inquiries. From the remaining three, scheduling conflicts eliminate another one, leaving two applicants to schedule an interview with me. Of the two remaining, I usually agree to sponsor one volunteer with a request for a year-long commitment which narrows the field even further, often to zero. But not this time!

Last fall was unusual, during the late summer I already agreed to one volunteer who was ready to begin when I received this email from Dana, “…I am a senior at FSU currently studying Communication Science & Disorders. I am hoping to eventually work as a speech pathologist in a pediatric setting, and I have been looking for a speech pathologist in Tallahassee that I could volunteer with or shadow this year. I think it would be a great opportunity to continue to learn more about the field and prepare for my future as an SLP. Please let me know if you have any positions available. I would love to have the opportunity to work with you this year.  Thanks for your help!…”

I responded with my three requests and in less than 24 hours, she complied and an interview was scheduled. During the interview, I learned that volunteer #1, Mackenzie, was also Dana’s roommate and they were friends from high school. How lucky am I? Two wonderful volunteers who are interested in the field of Speech-Language Pathology and eager to help this Center.

We scheduled a joint orientation and both volunteers entered with smiles and the enthusiasm of college students that always reminds me of how much I enjoy my work.

Dana began with, “I think my Dad knows you!” We talked and I was confused as I am not from her hometown but from Miami Beach. Well, she continued, I think my Dad graduated in the 70s from a school on Miami Beach.  With that, I share that I am not confirming that I am her father’s age, but that I do have several Miami Beach High School yearbooks from the 70s.

I leave for a moment, get the yearbooks and we open the pages only to see her father, as I remember him, right there in my yearbook. Not only did we graduate from high school together, we were at the same elementary and junior high schools!

With awe, Dana quickly takes a phone photo and sends it to her family with a comment of surprise at seeing her Dad as a high school senior.

My amazement is not that a friend’s child was at FSU, as each year, friends let me know that their son or daughter will be in Tallahassee and ask for my contact information in case of an emergency. No, this was different. This required many links to fall into place for us to learn of our connection.

First, Dana only learned of this Center because her roommate (thank you Mackenzie) contacted me earlier and was accepted as a volunteer. Second, I only agreed to meet Dana because she was prompt with my requests and demonstrated strong writing skills and interest in volunteering. Remember, I already had one volunteer ready to go. Third, to Dana’s credit, she shared with her parents about her interest in volunteering with this Center and meeting me. Fourth, her father recognized my maiden name, Savage, which I continue to use with my married name, Grayson.

Oh, did I mention, Dana’s roommate, Mackenzie, was a new transfer to FSU. So, most likely, without her transfer to FSU, contacting this Center to volunteer and sharing the news with Dana, there would not be a story to tell.

If any one of these links was broken or missing, this story would be filled with congratulations to another volunteer or no story at all. Instead, it is much more than that. It is a story of childhood connections creating a personal link to a professional story.

Some ask if I recognized Dana’s last name, I contend I didn’t focus on her last name. It may have sounded familiar, but not enough for me to consciously recognize any connection. Maybe, if Dana would have mentioned Miami Beach, that would have alerted me a bit more, but Melbourne…that didn’t cue any memories of her father or our school years together.

Dana and Mackenzie agreed to volunteer and weekly they observed and helped with office work. It was a busy year of mentoring and introducing them to the field of Speech-Language Pathology and all that it can encompass.

Dana participated throughout the weeks and up until graduation. I was thrilled that Dana included me in her updates as she applied to and visited graduate schools, received acceptances, and made her decision.

Dana at FSU graduation, 2016 Source: Dana

Dana at FSU graduation, Spring 2016 Photo: Dana

I received this message from Dana along with her graduation photos. “Volunteering at the Children’s Communication Center this past year was such a great experience. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to learn more about speech-language pathology outside of the classroom. The hands-on experience I gained while observing and assisting with the SLP sessions has prepared me to become a better clinician as I move on to graduate school at the University of South Carolina.”


Dana at FSU graduation, Spring 2016 Source: Dana

And, not only do Dana’s parents have one SLP-to-be in their family, they will have two SLPs when all is said and done.

Why? Because Dana’s sister who completed her graduate SLP education at FSU, then completed her Clinical Fellowship Year at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitiation Hosptial in Nashville, Tennessee where she now works as an SLP.

WOW! Cudos to you both…and to your family!

As I finalize this blog post, Dana is packing and preparing for her move to go “back to school” at the University of South Carolina (USC) in Columbia. USC is in for a treat with Dana’s arrival as she begins their Master of Speech Pathology program with the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the Arnold School of Public Health.


Dana at USC graduate school, 2016 Source: Dana

Learn more about the intensive education and training that goes into becoming a Speech-Language Pathologist certified by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) and why it is important to choose an ASHA Certified Speech-Language Pathologist. 

Are you thinking about a career in Speech-Language Pathology or Audiology ? ASHA shares the information to answer your questions.

This story is one of professional and personal pride, childhood friendships, the links that tie us together, the power of mentoring and the future success of Dana and Mackenzie (who is now exploring other health related fields), and to all those who will be touched by the lives of these wonderful young women. I am proud to share this story and look forward to watching thier journeys.

To my future colleague, Dana, I wish you success as you start this final aspect of your education and prepare to become an SLP. To your sister, I look forward to meeting you and commend you on your accomplishments. And to your parents, I congratulate you both and look forward to seeing you in the future.

And, last to Mackenzie, thank you for your hours of volunteering and your part in this story.






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