A Message from the 2019 Sam McFarland Mentorship Award Winner
A Message from the 2019 Sam McFarland Mentorship Award Winner

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A Message from the 2019 Sam McFarland Mentorship Award Winner


“There is no limit to the good you can do in this world if you don’t care who gets the credit.”



It is with a great deal of honor and humility that I accept the RESNA Sam McFarland Mentorship Award. To say I was surprised and overwhelmed when I became aware that I had been nominated by my colleagues and more so won would be an understatement, especially as a Speech Pathologist. That this award is given for helping to mentor and advance others in the field is even a greater honor. When I look back at who else has received this award it takes me back to the beginnings of my journey in AAC and AT. The saying “in the right place at the right time” certainly applies to me. Speech Pathologist at that time were to teach people to speak--but what about those who could not.

I went to graduate school at Penn State specifically to take Dr. Eugene McDonald’s course in Cerebral Palsy. When I moved to New Jersey I was only the 2nd Speech Pathologist at our small but dedicated agency, the United Cerebral Palsy Association of Middlesex County (now the New Jersey Institute for Disabilities). I was, by default, given the task of working with the Bell Lab Pioneers on their Computer-Aided Communication Project for the Speech Impaired. This was when the computer took up about half the room. Dr. McDonald later contacted me regarding an upcoming Conference that he felt I should attend and present this project. It took me a long time to decide I could and should do this. That conference was the 1976 Conference on Systems and Devices for the Disabled at the Biomedical Engineering Center at Tufts-New England Medical Center. It was so exciting. I still have that program with the list of wonderful, enthusiastic and inspiring professionals and students I meet including Gregg Vanderheiden. Rick Foulds, Barry Romich and Professor John Eulenberg from Michigan State to name a few. I knew then that it was important for me to learn more and help to get more Speech Pathologists involved and accepting of this exciting field.

I was then fortunate to return to an Agency that supported my efforts and had a very innovative staff of Physical and Occupational therapists willing to look beyond what we had always done. As a result of the Tufts conference I was invited to give several other presentations with many of the same individuals. Then with the effort of Elaine Woods, Physical Therapists at our Agency, who shared my passion, we started to see individuals outside our program and to develop a Seating and Adaptive Equipment Clinic. Through her I then had the opportunity and privilege to be mentored by several previous honorees including Adrienne Bergen and Jerry Weisman. There was also the beginning of the NJCART group in New Jersey which increased my knowledge greatly and expanded by own mentors. As my knowledge grew (although I still feel it is limited) I started to share the information (both individually and in presentations) that many others had so kindly given to me. Although the large presentations were personally challenging, I always loved the small workshops and group training. In order to do this with credibility I felt it would be important to then obtain the new RESNA certification. I think that I may have been in the very first “certification test” given at Closing the Gap. I remember receiving the only available information –the brand new Cook and Hussey book--the day before I flew to Minneapolis. I sat there and said “I am never going to pass this! But I did.

I have always wanted others to enjoy the field that has given me so much pleasure and at the same time challenges. It has provided me with the opportunity to work with both a wonderful, dedicated group of professionals and also consumers. As I am nearing the end of my full time job (not my career) what has been the most surprising but in turn the most pleasing has been those who have mentioned the help they felt I have given them. I truly was surprised. I think that I never saw it that way but rather felt that they always gave me more. I feel that by mentoring we will ensure that we continue to advance the field and help those we serve.

Travis M. Tallman CCC-SLP, ATP