USFSM alumna Chelsea Woodard is pursuing a master's degree and serves on the Executive Council of the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association.

USFSM Spotlight: Chelsea Woodard

By: Rich Shopes

Posted: May 20, 2019

A graduate of the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee has become a prominent figure in the communication sciences and disorders (CSD) field.

Chelsea Woodard, 29, earned a Bachelor of Science degree in CSD with a concentration in speech-language sciences two years ago. Since then, she’s assumed an influential post at the National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA), where she serves on the Executive Council as vice president for academic affairs.

“I owe so much to the CSD program at USF Sarasota-Manatee and to my instructors, especially Dr. (Donna) Polelle and Dr. (Sarah) Szynkiewicz,” Woodard said. “The program provided me with a solid foundation not only in the academic setting, but also in regard to student leadership.”

Based in Rockville, Maryland, NSSLHA is the only national student organization for pre-professionals studying CSD recognized by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA). It oversees more than 300 student chapters nationwide.

Woodard lives in Hanford, California, about a half-hour south of Fresno, and fulfills most of her NSSLHA responsibilities online. As a result of her role at NSSLHA, Woodard has also been appointed as a student representative to the ASHA Academic Affairs Board and American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation.

USFSM Spotlight: Chelsea Woodard

Dr. Donna Polelle

“Our CSD faculty members are very proud of Chelsea’s accomplishments and her recognition at the national level,” Polelle said. “As a member of NSSLHA’s Executive Council, Chelsea is influential in directing the NSSLHA organization. Mentoring by the prestigious ASHA board of directors is valuable for her future as a leader of a professional organization.”

In her NSSLHA position, Woodard manages scholarship applications and contributes to policy discussions at council meetings. In March, she traveled with executive staff to Washington, D.C., to lobby legislators about issues affecting the CSD field.

She said she sought the two-year elected post after meeting NSSLHA executives at conventions in Philadelphia, while she was a student at USFSM, and in Los Angeles. She asked about serving in the organization, filled out an application and was approved to run in a nationwide election involving NSSLHA chapters. She began her term last summer.

Woodard said she enrolled at USF Sarasota-Manatee for CSD because of its rigorous academic program and convenient online classes. Currently, she’s enrolled in an online program at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, pursuing a Master of Science in speech-language pathology.

“The program at USFSM provided me with opportunities to become a competitive candidate when I applied to graduate school,” she said. “It prepared me for where I am now. I really have to thank my professors. Their passion for the CSD field and academia contributes to their students’ success in the classroom and as future clinical professionals.”

Woodard was visiting James Madison last spring, attending classes, when she received a call about winning the vice president’s position for NSSLHA.

“I was excited and humbled to learn I had won a national election,” she said.

Family and friends were equally elated, as were her former instructors at USFSM when word reached the campus.

Dr. Sarah Hegyi-Szynkiewicz

Dr. Sarah Szynkiewicz

“We are so proud of Chelsea,” said Szynkiewicz, an assistant professor. “She is such a driven and caring young professional. We are honored that she represents the USFSM CSD program as an accomplished alumna, paving her clinical pathway to serve others as well as assuming leadership roles within our field.”

Woodard said she’ll likely work as a speech-language pathologist when she graduates next spring, but she also admits to a desire to pursue a doctoral degree.

“Pursuing a PhD is a goal I have set for myself,” she said. “I hope that I can one day help students find their passion in the CSD field, just as I found mine. The experiences I have had as a student leader at the local and national levels, as well as the connections I’ve made in my position as vice president for academic affairs, are helping to shape me into the clinician and advocate that I hope to become.

“Our profession is based on service and compassion, and the people I have met throughout my CSD journey affirm the fact that I am pursuing the right career, a career that started at USFSM.”

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