Tommie L. Robinson Jr., PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA President Tommie Robinson found his career path very early—in seventh grade—when he decided to become a speech-language pathologist. His choice was rooted in his love of family and his awareness of the fluency disorders that had affected four generations of his family, including his sister, brother, uncle, and great aunt. Robinson’s ... President's Interview
President's Interview  |   January 01, 2010
Tommie L. Robinson Jr., PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA President
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Professional Issues & Training / ASHA News & Member Stories / President's Interview
President's Interview   |   January 01, 2010
Tommie L. Robinson Jr., PhD, CCC-SLP, ASHA President
The ASHA Leader, January 2010, Vol. 15, 18-21. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.15012010.18
The ASHA Leader, January 2010, Vol. 15, 18-21. doi:10.1044/leader.PRI.15012010.18
Tommie Robinson found his career path very early—in seventh grade—when he decided to become a speech-language pathologist. His choice was rooted in his love of family and his awareness of the fluency disorders that had affected four generations of his family, including his sister, brother, uncle, and great aunt. Robinson’s path led him from his home in Mississippi to earn his PhD at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and to his current position as director of the Scottish Rite Center for Childhood Language Disorders in the Department of Hearing and Speech at Children’s National Medical Center in the nation’s capital. At every step of his professional journey, he was motivated by a love for clinical service and a passion for leadership. Beyond his professional roles, Robinson also sings tenor and is a master baker, a talent he shares with his nephews, nieces, and godchildren.
What do you hope to accomplish this year as ASHA president?
As an association, we need to keep moving forward—advancing to the next levels in research, clinical practice, teaching, education, and advocacy. I love the statement I heard recently—we need not only to find the trees but plant the seeds to determine where the trees will grow.
The issue of leadership is near and dear to my heart, and will be a focus for my presidential year. Leadership should be evident in all that we do as clinicians, researchers, academicians, students, and as citizens—it also should be reflected in our volunteer service. All of us are capable of leadership and it is not positional. My hope is that all ASHA members can find and manifest their leadership potential in aspects of what they do on a daily basis.
I hope to keep our association on its current path—a very healthy path driven by ASHA’s “Strategic Pathway to Excellence.” The path has four main areas of focus—two professions, one discipline; scientifically based professional practices; advocacy; and the member experience. It is my hope to continue on that path by re-examining these areas and ensuring they are strong enough to support the vision and mission of this association. I also want to continue to work on collaboration with other professional organizations so that we can hold productive discussions for the good of the public and the good of our professions.
What connects me most closely with members is my love of clinical service delivery. That’s the heart and soul of what I do at the Scottish Rite Center in my work with children. My classes in the university setting are clinical as well, and our center has a public school contract—so there is a link with school-based practice. It’s important to me to stay in touch with members—not just hearing from them, but listening and being proactive on member issues.
You grew up in a large and diverse family and had a very early awareness of stuttering in your home. How did your family experience shape your view of the world?
My family was interesting! For years it kept getting larger and larger. There were nine children. Dad died when I was 15, and Mom became a single parent with three children in college. She can do anything—she ultimately fostered more than 60 children, and managed to feed other children in the community. Of the kids she fostered, she adopted three, including one with Down syndrome who is now 23, and an infant with shaken baby syndrome, who is now 12. Those kids were always dear to our hearts. From this experience I learned acceptance of everyone. And I learned about service, not to gain a reward but to give back to your family and community.
Certainly my awareness of stuttering put me on my career path. I became an advocate for communication sciences and disorders at an early age. My sixth-grade teacher had taught my older sister, who stuttered. When I reached sixth grade, Miss Willis (who was one of the best teachers I have ever had) asked me, “Regina is your sister? Has she learned to talk yet?” I said, “Miss Willis, Regina talks just fine—she just talks differently.” I think I was my sister’s voice in many ways because she had such shyness about communicating. And I would go with her to speech-language treatment and wait in the car—which is how I was first exposed to the profession. One of my best moments in later years was hearing my sister on the phone negotiating a car purchase, and wearing the seller down!
You’re known for your passion for leadership—pursuing it yourself, and mentoring and supporting others. Most good mentors have been well-mentored. What’s your leadership story?
Like most of my siblings, I enrolled at a local community college and then transferred to The University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”), where I received my bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and then went to Howard University for my PhD. Throughout those years I was surrounded by good mentors who were very active in ASHA and state associations. One of them, Thomas A. Crowe, predicted that one day I would be president of ASHA after I gave a well-received student lecture on cultural diversity.
My interest as a doctoral student was in making the connection between cultural diversity and fluency. At Howard I realized that it’s one thing to live in a culture and quite another thing to understand what you’re living.
When I moved to Washington, D.C., I immediately sought out the D.C. Speech-Language-Hearing Association, thinking that’s what all professionals did. Eventually I became DCSHA president, which prepared me for an active role in ASHA beginning in the early 1990s. I was still being mentored—by Johnetta Davis at Howard and by others in the public schools, where I worked while going to school, and later while working at Children’s Hospital. Mentoring is such a wonderful give-and-take. You change roles and become a mentor, and try to pass on this support and knowledge to younger clinicians.
How has your volunteer leadership prepared you for ASHA’s presidency?
Without a doubt, my volunteer experience prepared me to be ASHA president. I have served on a number of ASHA committees, boards, and councils. My first appointment was to the committee that developed the clinical fellowship appraisal instrument. I was elected to the Legislative Council and the Committee on Nominations and Elections, which taught me how our governance works. I was appointed to the Clinical Certification Board, Standards Council, Board of Ethics, and Council for Clinical Certification, which taught me the importance of our standards and how much they interface with our daily lives as clinicians, academicians, researchers, and students. Chairing the 2002 ASHA convention taught me how to recognize and appreciate the science of our professions. As vice president for quality of service in speech-language pathology, I learned how to think strategically.
I see ASHA as a leadership training institute because you get so many opportunities to see leadership and practice it, and it’s a skill that can be transferred to civic life. I took on leadership positions in the metropolitan D.C. Lutheran church organization and have been on the D.C. Education Licensure Commission, and my ASHA training made that possible.
How can ASHA best serve the audiology and speech-language pathology professions individually and build their collaboration and the discipline as a whole?
Past President Sue Hale—and the 2009 convention—reinforced the value of our professions working together as powerful partners. Audiology and speech-language pathology have common goals in advocacy. Collaboration also ensures more successful clinical outcomes, and produces better science to ensure the future of communication sciences and disorders.
Our members in the audiology community can be assured that ASHA’s 2010 leadership initiatives take under consideration the needs of all in the audiology, speech-language pathology, and speech, language, and hearing science communities. It is no doubt we are stronger together than we are separately.
Individually and collectively, members need to know about the vast array of ASHA resources that are available to them. There are a number of documents available on ASHA’s Web site of which some members are not aware. Somehow we need to help them discover and use these resources. There is still the issue of evidence-based practice and how it must become a part of each of our lives to the point that it is a part of every clinical encounter, research protocol, program, product, and service. This focus has a major effect on every aspect of the discipline. ASHA can help each of us see the importance of these connections.
What course should we set as a discipline over the next 10 years?
Our evolution as a discipline depends upon our using evidence-based practice in conjunction with technology to define best clinical services. This goal can be accomplished only with the collaboration of clinicians and researchers. We also need to recruit from culturally and linguistically diverse populations, including men. And finally, the needs and consideration of students should be front and center.
Any final words?
I am truly honored to serve as ASHA’s president and take seriously being entrusted to speak on behalf of our 135,000 members. I hope to be a catalyst for continued positive growth.
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January 2010
Volume 15, Issue 1