Committing to — and Advocating for — Excellence

Whether as the LSU band’s first ever female sousaphone player or as ASHA’s president, Theresa Rodgers never shys away from pursuing her best, and her CCCs are a reflection of that dedication.

A standard of excellence, speech-language pathology, and Louisiana State University. Those three passions define Theresa Rodgers and have driven her academic and professional career in her journey to becoming ASHA’s president. With her presidency forced to face the COVID-19 pandemic, Theresa is leading ASHA, its members, and those they serve by adhering to the values she has gained along the way.

Her ties to the LSU Tigers and pioneering excellence began in her hometown of Larose, Louisiana, which is also the birthplace of the school’s championship-winning football coach, Ed Orgeron. Similar to Orgeron, what brought Theresa to Baton Rouge was the gridiron, but in a different role: She was the first female sousaphone player in LSU Tiger Marching Band history. “I was deterred from playing the sousaphone, so I guess you could say I broke through the glass ceiling there,” she says.

LSU also attracted her as one of only two schools in the state that at the time had an accredited communication sciences and disorders program, a field that “really sparked an interest in me” during her senior year of high school. She obtained three degrees from the school — bachelor’s and master’s degrees in speech-language pathology as well as a Certificate of Education Specialist degree in learning disabilities — and began working for the nearby Ascension Parish school district after graduation. Theresa added another “first” to her list as one of the first two ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists (SLPs) in the school system.

“Because of my CCCs, people looked to me for leadership in the field of speech-language pathology,” Theresa says. “Administrators, principals, parents, other teachers would frequently consult with me because they associated me with high standards, knowledge and skills.”

Her CCCs became such a defining and guiding part of her more than 30 years in Ascension Parish that she helped set a precedent for “a standard of excellence that survived throughout my entire career.” “Having your CCCs just became part of the culture there,” she says.

As the country confronted COVID-19 in March, Theresa continued to tap into that “standard of excellence” as well as seeing it lived out by her ASHA-certified fellow professionals.  Whether they are audiologists and SLPs in school-based, healthcare or clinical settings, their commitment and the preparation they took before the arrival of the coronavirus to ensure they are the best clinicians they can be has stood them in good stead.

“Given this pandemic and all that we’re challenged with on a constantly changing basis, it’s the rigor of our training, strong backgrounds and incredible clinical skills that really come out,” she says. “We’re being called to be flexible, adaptable, think critically and problem-solve for the changes we’re encountering throughout the day. Our training serves us well during this time.”

As the organization’s president, Theresa also considers herself the field’s chief advocate, a role she’s had a lot of practice in and familiarity with beginning from when she was a student and then throughout her career. Studying and living in Louisiana’s capital, advocacy on behalf of her peers in the field with policymakers was always considered an essential part of her duties.

“Starting with my time at LSU as a grad student, I was expected to go to the state capitol to monitor legislation affecting the practice of audiology and speech-language pathology,” she recounts. “That’s where I really cut my teeth in advocacy work.”

As the fallout from the coronavirus has pushed audiologists and SLPs to shift to providing care online, she has wasted no time advancing the interests of ASHA members to national and state lawmakers in regard to telepractice and insurance reimbursements. Additionally, ASHA has also provided its members with resources and information on an ongoing basis, providing updates as situations develop and offering virtual townhalls where members have a voice.

“What this presidency is giving me an opportunity to do is engage with members and our wide network to work together to solve these problems we’re facing,” she says. “We’re definitely in uncharted waters, I’m so proud of our response to the needs for our members.”

None of this would be possible without working towards obtaining her CCCs and then living by the standards set forward by her certification.

“The road to the CCCs is foundational in building the profession, and that foundation never leaves you,” Theresa says. “You always have your CCCs to build upon, no matter what challenges — large or small — that you’re facing.”