STEP Pairing Proves a Lasting Blend This student and professional, brought together through an online mentoring program, stay in touch long after their official stint is done. In the Limelight
In the Limelight  |   November 01, 2014
STEP Pairing Proves a Lasting Blend
Author Notes
  • Carol Polovoy is assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader.
    Carol Polovoy is assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / In the Limelight
In the Limelight   |   November 01, 2014
STEP Pairing Proves a Lasting Blend
The ASHA Leader, November 2014, Vol. 19, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19112014.22
The ASHA Leader, November 2014, Vol. 19, 22-23. doi:10.1044/leader.LML.19112014.22
New SLP Matt Masiello (left) and his mentor, Timothy Ayrovainen, met through ASHA’s online mentoring program for students.
Name: Timothy Ayrovainen, MA, CCC-SLP
Title: SLP, Roland A. Chatterton School, Merrick, New York; owner, Able Speech-Language-Learning P.C.
Name: Matthew Masiello, MS
Title: Clinical fellow, Keyport School District, Keyport, New Jersey
Take one New Jersey graduate student in speech-language pathology who wants to capitalize on every opportunity to further his career. Add one seasoned Long Island speech-language pathologist who enjoys mentoring but doesn’t have much time for it.
Mix together for nine months, and you produce a thriving match in ASHA’s online mentoring program.
Now celebrating 10 years, STEP—Student to Empowered Professional—pairs communications sciences and disorders students, particularly those from backgrounds historically underrepresented in CSD, with professionals willing to guide them. STEP has matched close to 2,000 students with online mentors.
Matthew Masiello is one of those students. He grew up in Staten Island and went to college and graduate school at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey. In October 2013, in his final year of grad school, Masiello stumbled on a STEP advertisement on the ASHA website.
“While I was in school, I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity that I could,” Masiello says. “I feel that you should educate yourself, talk to as many people as possible, in order to prepare yourself for your career. So when I saw this extra opportunity I thought ‘Oh, I have to take this, too.’”
Tim Ayrovainen—Masiello’s mentor—read about STEP mentoring in The ASHA Leader. A clinician since 1990, Ayrovainen is a school-based SLP in Merrick, New York, and owner of a private practice, Able Speech-Language-Learning P.C.
“I said, ‘That’s something I should do,’” Ayrovainen says. “I love mentoring. And I didn’t have time for it during the traditional workday. When I’m not in my office, I need to get home to take my daughter to dance, my son to practice. But this way I could do it; we can exchange e-mails at 10:30 at night.”
According to ASHA staff who coordinate STEP, Ayrovainen and Masiello seemed an obvious match: The seasoned professional is in private practice, the student is interested in private practice. The student is uncertain about what age group to serve, and the professional has experience with children and medical speech-language pathology. And they are both males from New York.
The two have much to discuss. As men in a predominantly female profession (97 percent of SLPs responding to ASHA’s 2013 member survey were women), some of their experiences are unique.
“He [Ayrovainen] is able to speak to me about things I might not have been able to with other mentors,” Masiello says. “Just little things that maybe aren’t even related to the field—like how do you communicate better, how do you get through certain things—because there are little differences. And it definitely helps.”
Masiello’s career choice came early in his life. As a child, he had a moderate to severe stutter and was afraid to speak to people. “I had some intervention when I was about 4 or 5, and I was able to overcome it,” he explains. “And I understand what it feels like to have a communication disorder, so I wanted to give back and get involved in the field.”
Masiello graduated from the Seton Hall program in May, and is a clinical fellow in the Keyport (New Jersey) School District. He and Ayrovainen have chosen to stay in touch, and even arranged to meet each other over dinner in September.
“I feel like I can speak to him about anything when it comes to the field,” Masiello says. “And I am very comfortable opening up about how I feel about certain things, and he is very honest, and I am very honest, and it clicked. I’m especially interested in gaining a better understanding—the ability and the knowledge—to one day possibly open my own practice.”
Ayrovainen earned his degree at SUNY Plattsburgh, and worked in a hospital, in school districts and for a speech-language pathology staffing company before taking his current position. (The kindergarten teacher who sat in the chair next to him at new staff orientation is now his wife of 14 years.) He developed a private practice slowly, seeing clients in their homes, and opened up an office about five years ago.
Ayrovainen says that he is grateful for his informal mentoring relationship with the late Alan Johnson, a clinician in a neighboring school district who also had a private practice. “Alan would say, ‘Well, Tim, why don’t you do this, why don’t you do that,’ and it seemed overwhelming. But step by step, you put the effort in, and you align yourself with some good people, and they make it less scary and you have the courage to take the chance.”
That guidance stuck with Ayrovainen. “Alan had a very successful practice, and I kind of envisioned my career working out that way,” he says. “And it has. I wish he was around to ask a few more questions to.”
Masiello and Ayrovainen independently agree that the most valuable guidance has been not about speech-language pathology, but about life. “This is what I try to share with Matthew: You’re going to get experiences where you’re going to get them, and you may say to yourself, ‘No, I don’t like this.’ Learning what you don’t want to do is just as important as learning what you want to do.”
Masiello echoes the philosophy. “Something that he [Ayrovainen] told me that sticks with me is that, no matter what, you’re learning,” he says. “And as you’re learning, it might not be something that you want to do, but you’re also learning what not to do. And just take it all in and just learn it all, whether it is positive or negative.”
The success of the relationship is evident in the pair’s desire to keep in touch and get together, even beyond the designated six months of the program. Over dinner at a restaurant, Ayrovainen says, “We compared notes on the typical tasks involved in gearing up for a new school year. I gave Matt documents that I’ve developed that help me organize the information and documentation required for a large caseload. They may accelerate his learning curve and I was glad to share them. We also previewed and discussed a few iPad applications that I have found helpful, as technology integration is an important goal of his and his district.”
And even more evidence of success? Masiello’s desire to—one day—become a STEP mentor himself.
STEP at Convention

ASHA will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the STEP program at the Multicultural Concerns Collective (MC2) reception on Thursday evening, Nov. 20, at the 2014 ASHA Convention in Orlando. For more information about the program.

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