A Family Affair Audiologist Enters the Profession Because of Close Family Ties Features
Features  |   February 01, 2010
A Family Affair
Author Notes
  • Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.
    Kellie Rowden-Racette, print and online editor for The ASHA Leader, can be reached at krowden-racette@asha.org.×
Article Information
Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   February 01, 2010
A Family Affair
The ASHA Leader, February 2010, Vol. 15, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.15022010.20
The ASHA Leader, February 2010, Vol. 15, 20-21. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR4.15022010.20
Although Chester Charles doesn’t say he has lofty goals, his actions demonstrate that he is a young man headed for success. A few years ago, he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in speech-language pathology while playing college football at Shaw University in North Carolina. Now he is now a third-year AuD student at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, where he is working on research pertaining to the role of the cerebellum in processing auditory stimuli. Having just taken fall semester finals and in the midst of preparing for his January comprehensive exams, Charles admitted the pace is relentless.
“It’s a lot of hard work and there doesn’t seem to be much of a break right now,” he said, laughing. “I heard it would be hard, and it is.”
But hard work won’t stop him. Charles was raised in an environment of determination. Growing up in Baton Rouge, La., he watched his two older cousins, Jonathan and Richard McKnight, go to college and become speech-language pathologists; both work in South Carolina public schools. Seeing them work hard and succeed, Charles said, helped him believe that he, too, could tackle a challenging career. The pressure equalization (PE) tubes he had in his ears as a child also helped steer him toward audiology. The tubes helped him a lot, so it seemed natural to follow his cousins and pursue a career in communication sciences.
Jonathan McKnight was thrilled to learn of Charles’s decision. “I didn’t realize that he had paid that much attention to what we had done,” he said, laughing. “When I heard he wanted to pursue a career in the discipline, I knew that I wanted to step in and help him in any way I could.”
Breaking New Ground
Although the family connection makes Charles’s career path notable, even more exceptional is the three men’s choice to enter professions with a shortage of male and minority members. According to ASHA’s 2008 data, 18.3% of member audiologists and 4.2% of member SLPs are male. Furthermore, only 6.8% of ASHA members, nonmember certificate-holders, and international affiliates are members of a racial minority (compared to 24.9% of the U.S. population, according to the 2000 Census Bureau Report).
The McKnights credit their experience and family support for their professional success. Their parents were educators who encouraged both brothers to do well academically. Each also received speech-language intervention in elementary school. Those services, Jonathan said, made him realize the value of the speech-language pathology profession.
He considered becoming a teacher, but thought he might prefer a more diverse field. “Since speech-language services served me so well, I looked into the profession and loved it.” He now works in the Horry County public school system.
Similarly, Richard McKnight said his parents’ influence and the valuable services he received as a child made his choice to become a SLP a natural one. “I like that I’m able to make a contribution to the lives of school-aged children with communication disorders,” he said. “If you can’t communicate, you won’t have the opportunity to reach your full potential.”
Professionally, the brothers deal with many stereotypes. In fact, Jonathan said, often he is the only male SLP that his high school students have seen. The fact that he is African-American is even more of a novelty for them. But, he contended, that situation is sometimes advantageous.
“I like the fact that I’m different,” he said. “I change mindsets about what is conventional. A lot of people are taken aback when they see me. I like that reaction. My students seem to like the variety.”
Richard McKnight agreed that speech-language pathology still needs more diversity, which he said offers “different perspectives and attitudes that clients and the general population can relate to.”
Charles is following his cousins’ footsteps, and taking an active role in his profession and in ASHA. He was a member of ASHA’s 2008 Minority Student Leadership Program and actively seeks out other minorities in the field for networking. It’s important to see these examples, he said, to remind him that anything is possible.
“Growing up in the South, I was sometimes intimidated, thinking ‘this is all I have, so this is all I can go with,’ but then I learned you can be just as competent and smart as the next guy.”
Future Plans
After Charles graduates, the three cousins plan to open a private practice. Although they haven’t chosen an exact location (somewhere in the Southeast is as far as they’ve agreed), they plan to practice together. They will provide speech-language and hearing services, and eventually plan to include another cousin studying to be a pediatrician and other family members who can provide information technology and marketing support.
“We want to have a practice that serves all ages,” Charles said. “The sooner you catch the kids with hearing disorders, the sooner you can help.”
The McKnights agree that the ultimate goal is to serve all populations, but the primary focus will be building the business slowly and learning how to make it successful.
“We want to open it up to all races, genders, age groups, and disorders—our goal is to help as many people as possible,” Richard explained. “I have the utmost confidence that we will work well together. We all have our strengths and weaknesses and know how to complement each other.”
As for his influence on Charles, Richard said he expects Charles to pass on the mentoring tradition. “I hope Chester has a chance to influence someone younger than he is—some young man who may just need the right influence and example. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
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February 2010
Volume 15, Issue 2