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Signia Conversation - March 2024

CMU Graduate is First African-American in Midwest to Receive Au.D.

MOUNT PLEASANT - As the first African-American in the Midwest to receive a doctor in audiology degree (Au.D.), Saunja Terrell is a role model for students, not only at Central Michigan University but nationwide.

'I love what I do in audiology, but there are a lot of other people who also deserve credit for what they've done in their lives,' said Terrell, a CMU graduate and native of Youngstown, Ohio. 'I am a good student, and I have a family that supports me in everything I do. I really feel that's a gift.'

As a role model, Terrell plans to promote understanding and diversity wherever she decides to accept employment. Her doctoral project was on 'Multicultural Recruitment Practices in Audiology.' Of the 110 schools she surveyed, only three had minority recruitment plans that were effective. Effectiveness was defined by an increase in minorities.

'Current methods used to recruit minority students into audiology programs are not effective,' said Terrell. 'We don't know all the reasons for this.'

Successful minority enrollment may have been due to contacting historically black institutions, sending out more recruitment literature and providing more funding assistance, she said. Institutions that were not effective recruiting minority students may have used only one method of recruitment.

'One respondent said that universities must make a serious commitment to diversity,' said Terrell. 'The respondent said that too many times we ask students to change to meet the university environment, but the university should also make a commitment to change to fit the students.

'Also, it should be the responsibility of the whole university community to work toward diversity, not one office or a department,' she added.

Her academic awards include the first American Academy of Audiology Committee on Diversity and International Exchange Scholarship, a graduate fellowship from CMU, a fellowship from the Audiology Foundation of America and an Outstanding Graduate in Communication Sciences and Disorders award from Hampton University in Virginia, where she earned her bachelor's degree.

'We are very proud of Saunja's accomplishments and proud that she chose CMU for her educational pursuits,' said Stephen Kopp, dean of The Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow College of Health Professions at CMU. 'She is a role model for all students. Her grades and work ethic reflect the very finest of the students we have here in the college.'

CMU's graduate audiology program ranks among the top 25 in the nation (and No. 1 in Michigan), according to U.S. News & World Report's annual ranking last year. Its doctorate program was one of the first Au.D. programs established in the nation.

Terrell is passionate about her work with audiology patients. She is serving a clinical fellowship at the hearing clinic at the Taubman Center, University of Michigan.

'I like working with patients,' she said. 'I test hearing, monitor facial nerves during surgery and do other clinical work. I'd like to be in private practice some day helping patients with hearing problems - both children and adults - doing testing and fitting them for hearing aids as well. I also love working with the elderly.'

Her interest in hearing and audiology was supported by teachers throughout her elementary, high school and college years including Theresa Graham, an instructor at Hampton University.

But her family has been the strongest support in her life.

'My parents always told me that if you don't try, that's the biggest failure in life,' said Terrell. 'I learned to keep on trying no matter what. They always told us to go where we want and get as much education as we could. My grandparents, Mattie Thomas Green and Eartha and Purvis Terrell, also encouraged me to work hard at what I wanted.'

Terrell's sister, Dayna, is a lawyer in Kansas and another sister, Zakkiyyah, is in law school in Florida. A third sister, Dontaira, is in the 10th grade. Her parents, Ellen and Don Terrell, say they expected their children to acquire more education than they had and exposed them to many academic settings early in life.

'We always told them whatever career choice they made, please let it be something they like,' said Ellen Terrell. 'You will do your best if you're happy with what you are doing.

'We did what parents must do. We supported them emotionally, financially, loved them, scolded them, disciplined them, praised them and prayed for them,' she added.

Saunja Terrell also learned to confront life challenges with courage and insight.

'Sometimes I've had to step back from the situation and not react right away,' said Terrell. 'I have to remember that I am capable, and I just have to keep on doing what I'm doing. You can't walk away from situations and expect change, but sometimes you need to take the time to think first.

'I have a spiritual focus to my life, and I keep a journal,' she added. 'I also try to keep fit and walk or do some activity every day.'

At CMU, Saunja credited several instructors and staff for being helpful, especially Ayayi Fubara, director of minority student services, and David Williams, assistant vice president for institutional diversity. Faculty members Dawn Nelson and assistant dean Linda Stanford served as mentors.

'It was a transition for me coming from Hampton University to CMU, and they helped me in many ways, including finding a graduate assistantship in minority student services,' said Terrell.

She was encouraged by Williams and others to stay at CMU and complete her education to reach her goals.

'I found Saunja to be a very dedicated person,' said Williams. 'She was unhappy at first and wanted to quit. She can serve as a role model for all students who come to Mount Pleasant because of her ability to make the adjustments and the sacrifices in spite of wanting to leave.'

Other professors cite her strong drive to succeed.

'I will always remember Saunja's drive to accomplish her degree,' said Gerald Church, director of the professional doctorate in audiology program at CMU. 'She had the will to persevere and obtain her degree while maintaining a cheerful disposition the entire time.'

'Saunja is one of the hardest working students I know, and she has always fulfilled her responsibilities with patience and care,' said Gail Weddington, clinical supervisor in CMU's audiology clinic. 'Patients and colleagues who work with Saunja find that she is competent and caring, but also that she has a great sense of humor.'

Terrell's learning extended to several international experiences. She spent one summer at a private practice hearing clinic in Abbotsford, British Columbia in Canada doing hearing assessments, testing, hearing aid selection, fitting and repair. She also learned about audiology billing procedures. She also spent two weeks volunteering in the Dominican
Republic, testing hearing and fitting patients for hearing aids.

'I would do that again,' she said. 'The people are so grateful. We worked from early morning to late at night, and the people were lined up to get help.'

At CMU, Terrell was involved in the Black Graduate Student's Association and the minority student services office. She completed clinical experiences at Sparrow Hospital and Professional Hearing Consultants, both in Lansing; CMU's Hearing Clinic; and an internship at Starkey Laboratories Inc. in Minneapolis. She has made two presentations at the Michigan
Speech-Language Hearing Association.

Her professional associations include the National Association of Future Doctors of Audiology, CMU chapter treasurer; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority; Academy of Dispensing Audiologists; American Academy of Audiology; and the National Black Speech, Language and Hearing Association.
Signia Xperience - July 2024

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