Leadership for all
Giving students tools they need to work inter-professionally

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Graduate student Sarah Peterson coordinates the service committee of the Student Occupational Therapy Association.
Occupational therapy graduate student Sarah Peterson already participates in team work through clinical field work and volunteering at ECU’s Adapted Sports Day. There, recreational therapists, physical therapists and occupational therapists and others come together to support athletes with disabilities.

“They are different therapies, but together they make the big picture,” Peterson said, adding that sometimes patients don’t know the difference between therapists. “We even have pre-conceived notions ourselves.” 

Robyn Sauls of Farmville, a graduate student in speech language pathology, said providing mentoring and collaboration opportunities for students while in school is important. “The current students in undergraduate and graduate school are the future of the workforce,” she said.

“It is essential that leaders help facilitate the growth of students academically and emotionally. We can always learn from others’ experiences.”

Sauls has served as representative for the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders on the student leaders council. She said a council-sponsored leadership workshop last fall gave students an excellent opportunity to discuss concerns, give suggestions and create relationships with other advisors and students in the college.

“The Student Occupational Therapy Association advisor and I had a great conversation and she helped me create a handbook for my own organization,” Sauls said.

Leadership and service go hand in hand

In the College of Allied Health Sciences, there are nine campus organizations related to majors that students can join to gain leadership experience and community service.

Peterson coordinates the service committee for the Student Occupational Therapy Association, a job that has pushed her out of her comfort zone. She contacts various organizations for possible service projects and schedules and coordinates what the nine-person committee decides.

“I tend to be shy, reserved,” said Peterson, a Greenville native. “This is different for me. I’ve always been more of a follower. But this is one of those things that I really wanted to do. I have become more involved.”

Last year, SOTA teamed up with Give to the Troops to prepare care packages and send cards to 40 to 50 service members overseas. Students donated their time and willpower to Shepherd’s Helpers to build wheelchair ramps for needy people in the community. At Hope Lodge, the committee led a Valentine’s craft project for family members. They cooked a meal at the Ronald McDonald House, made shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, and helped at-risk girls with homework in Operation Sunshine’s afterschool program.
Occupational therapy graduate students lead older drivers through a 12-point checklist and recommend car adjustments or adaptations during a CarFit community service project in Greenville.
Her favorite experience, one she did on her own and not part of a student group, has been working with the exceptional children’s baseball league at Elm Street Park, where she was paired with a child for about six weeks last summer. Children and adults of all abilities get to participate.

“I want to make a difference,” Peterson said. “I want to help others, and by helping them, it helps me. It has helped me grow so much.”

Sauls, who has an undergraduate degree in exercise and sports science, is president of the National Student Speech Language and Hearing Association at ECU, which has 118 members.

“It has been a completely different experience because of the demands of graduate school,” Sauls said. “Through my current position, I feel I have learned more about working in a professional environment with a variety of people at different levels. I feel like I have developed more accountability as a leader through NSSLHA and have increased my ability to delegate tasks efficiently.”

Last semester, NSSLHA participated in a fall festival for children in ECU’s Speech Language and Hearing Clinic and worked with the Pitt County Department of Social Services to adopt three children to provide clothes and toys at Christmas. This semester, students held a school supply drive for the Kennedy Home of Kinston, and sponsored a Relay for Life team in memory of communication sciences and disorders faculty member Meta Downes, who died last spring from breast cancer.  

Decision making and personal growth

After attending a leadership conference in 2009, Peterson realized she never thought of herself as a leader. “But everyone is a leader in their own way, whether they realize it or not,” she said. “I’ve had to become more confident in myself.”

She also recognizes there are different styles of leadership.

“I may be more quiet and reserved. Some people will relate to me and my way. We all have our different styles, and they’re all effective,” Peterson said. “It’s really important to listen to what other people want.”

Being liaison for student leaders council, focusing on class work and field work and graduate research, and other volunteer responsibilities seems overwhelming at times.

“Finding a way to get all these things accomplished is a good professional experience,” Elam said. “That’s one way I’m really growing.”


This article originally appeared in the 2011 Alliance magazine, the annual alumni magazine for the ECU College of Allied Health Sciences.