Prior to enrolling at Chico State, Sarah Moschetti spent four years working as a teaching assistant in special education. Most of the children she worked with could not communicate with words and often became frustrated. The classroom’s speech language pathologist (SLP) had to find alternative ways for students to communicate. One of the most common ways to alleviate the children’s frustration was to present them with two options and enable students to look or point at the toy or snack they wanted. Once the students were presented with an effective way to communicate with others, it opened up a whole new world for them.

“Although many of us take it for granted, it is very powerful to be able to make your own choices and have control over your life,” said Moschetti, a graduating senior. “Communication is the essence of human life. I want to help people communicate so that they can gain as much independence as possible and improve their quality of life.”

While Moschetti already knew she wanted to pursue a SLP career when she came to Chico State in fall 2019, she didn’t know how much she’d come to appreciate her peers, the faculty, and the fantastic opportunities the Communication Sciences and Disorders Department (CMSD) would provide.

“I chose Chico State because of its well-regarded CMSD program and its proximity to my home town,” said Moschetti, a native of Humboldt County. “From day one, because of the passion of the faculty, I knew I made the right decision.”

In Moschetti’s first semester on campus, officers from the Chico State chapter of National Student Speech Language Hearing Association (NSSLHA) visited one of her classes to pitch the benefits of joining the organization. As a new student on campus, Moschetti thought it would be a good opportunity to make friends, better get to know her peers, and build her resume.

“Sarah joined our program with a very clear focus and has demonstrated an interest in being actively involved as a CMSD student,” said professor Kenyan Martin. “I first began to notice that she was a special student when she was one of the few juniors who volunteered to be a part of the Clinic for Communication Disorders (CCD) fundraising task force.”

The CCD provides no-cost speech and language diagnostics and intervention to individuals across Northern California. Each semester, the clinic treats about 40 clients, children and adults, with communications disorders. The clinic provides invaluable hands-on learning opportunities to CMSD graduate students, but needs to raise roughly $16,000 annually in order to treat clients at no cost.

As a key part of the CCD fundraising task force last year, Moschetti helped raise $9,000 during Chico State’s annual Giving Day. She was part of a group that wrote letters to alumni, shared the fundraising page with family and friends, and created a T-shirt for donors. At the time, Moschetti was a junior rep for NSSLHA, and a liaison between the fundraising task force and her cohort. In that role, she tirelessly reached out to all CMSD students to spread the word about the importance of fundraising for the clinic.

“That was probably the time everyone began to see Sarah as presidential material,” said Martin, referring to NSSLHA.

Their instincts were correct. At the beginning of the 2020–21 academic year, Moschetti became the president of NSSLHA’s Chico State chapter. NSSHLA works with, and gives back to, organizations that support student learning—including the Brain Injury Coalition in Chico and the American Speech-Language Hearing Foundation, which provides scholarships for outstanding students to attend grad school.

The chapter’s biggest undertaking each year is to plan and execute its annual conference. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Moschetti and her fellow NSSLHA officers had to pull off a virtual conference.

“None of us had ever hosted a webinar before, not even Dr. Martin, who is very tech-savvy,” said Moschetti. “We had to bring in chat moderators, work through tech challenges, and think through how to present engaging content in a virtual format.”

There was also the matter of choosing a theme for the conference. Early in the planning process, NSSLHA officers decided they wanted to address diversity and the importance of cultural competence when diagnosing and treating clients from different cultural backgrounds.

Moschetti helped book Toya Wyatt, a professor in the Communicative Disorders program at Cal State Fullerton, as their conference speaker. The six-hour event focused on providing culturally competent speech-language services for Black K-12 students in schools.

SLPs must assess “difference versus disorder”—the challenge of determining if a client’s language patterns are due to their native language or cultural background or whether they are indicative of speech or language impairment. Wyatt discussed language development and communication differences within the Black student community and how to minimize biases and work though the frequent issue of standardized diagnosis tests being biased in the assessment of children who speak African American English.

“Many SLPs don’t have a lot of experience with African American English. It is its own dialect, and you need to understand its differences and minimize your own biases or you are at risk of misdiagnosis,” said Moschetti. “Everyone who attended the event that day learned so much, and it will ultimately benefit the clients we work with in the future.”

Because the conference was virtual, NSSLHA was able to work closely with Cal State Fullerton’s Communicative Disorders program and open it up to students from all over California—attracting nearly 140 students and professionals in total. 

“It was a wonderful event and just one example of how NSSLHA benefitted from Sarah’s leadership this year,” said Martin. “She is such a thoughtful leader who was always a few steps ahead in terms of planning.”

Moschetti also led the NSSLHA’s efforts to develop a new position within the organization—diversity and inclusion officer. The chapter’s goal in creating this position is to have someone conducting outreach on and off campus to spread awareness about the field of SLP to current and future students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

In recognition of her outstanding academic achievements, public service contributions, and leadership abilities, the College of Communication and Education named Moschetti its 2021 Outstanding Student Leader.

Though she is graduating this month, Moschetti isn’t leaving campus quite yet. She has been accepted into CMSD’s master’s degree program, which has a job placement rate of nearly 100 percent for its graduating speech language pathologists.

After grad school, Moschetti plans to obtain her SLP license and begin working with K–12 students in her native Humboldt County, a traditionally underserved area.