Taking the Road Less Traveled from Mumbai to New York and Promoting Diversity

First exposed to audiology in high school, Shruti Deshpande, PhD, CCC-A, is helping students from middle school through college learn about the profession and guide their career path

Unlike the United States, high school students in India must pick their career path once they graduate and before enrolling in college. Moved by Robert Frost’s poem,  “The Road Not Taken,”, Shruti Deshpande followed the calling very few had gone before in her community in Mumbai: “When I started my program, I was probably the first from my school to choose the field of audiology.”

Shruti admits that she was wasn’t initially expecting to pursue audiology at first either. It was when she began to meet with audiologists before making her final decision of what to study in college that led to her “aha moment.”

“Audiology is what I wanted to do all along,” she says, since she knew she was attracted to health care but wasn’t sure how she wanted to practice it. “I just didn’t really know it until I came in contact with it.”

Recognizing how important exposure to the field was in her decision to become an audiologist, she now leads Academic Service-Learning (AS-L) projects at St. John’s University in New York. As part of the projects, Shruti’s undergraduate and Doctor of Audiology students visit local middle and high schools in the city, educating students about healthy hearing and the profession of audiology, as well as offering free hearing screenings.

“My students get to utilize what they’ve learned in their courses at St. John’s, and now have the tangible experience of working with adolescents and teaching them about the subject,” she explains. “I want to make this period in their lives meaningful — I want them to take away a valuable academic and service experiences when they graduate.”

Meanwhile, the middle and high schoolers from diverse backgrounds get to learn more about a field they may not know much about, giving them a chance to explore a new potential career path. “Such experiences early in life can be crucial in attracting a diverse talent pool to our profession,” says Shruti. The program also provides access to important health education and resources that these students may not receive otherwise; Shruti has made it a focus to work primarily with schools in low-income and immigrant communities throughout New York.

Fluent in four languages herself — Konkani, Hindi, Marathi and English — combined with the wide array of languages spoken by her undergraduates, Shruti’s classes are also often able to connect with these younger students in their native languages.

“As an immigrant myself, I feel like I’m giving back to a community who might not get the services others might receive,” she says. “I also  feel like I’m putting my ASHA CCCs and skills to use by working from these students of immigrant backgrounds and leaning on my continuing education.”

To ensure that she’s leading the AS-L projects effectively, Shruti relies heavily on her ASHA certification, drawing on the resources her CCCs provide her. She’s come a long way from initially seeing “CCC-A” at the end of people’s names in her readings while studying in India and wondering what those letters meant.

“Once I came to the U.S., I began to understand that the credential was an important aspect of a person’s career as an audiologist, both here in the U.S. but also anywhere,” she says, highlighting that the CCCs are recognized worldwide for their high standards and rigorous training. “As an international student, it was really vital for me to have a career where I would be recognized, and that meant I would have to get my ASHA certification.” As a result, when Shruti and her husband, Aniruddha, an audiology professor at Hofstra University came to the U.S. together to get their PhDs at the University of Cincinnati, they made it a priority to earn their CCCs. They now collaborate together as part of the Long Island Doctor of Audiology Consortium, a partnership between St. John’s, Adelphi and Hofstra Universities.

Along with her work in New York, Shruti still regularly works with communications sciences programs and schools in India, another way she hopes to give back and increase exposure to the field. When she gives a talk to a class or coordinates with other audiologists, her CCCs are often a topic that come up. “Many people ask me about my ASHA CCCs, and are interested in collaborating because of my ASHA certification,” she says. “It truly gives an additional boost to a person’s career, and helps you be the best at your job.”