Suzanne Engel Reflects On Experience Being 2010-2011 Virtual Trainee

May 4, 2011

Suzanne Engel
Suzanne Engel

As the 2010-2011 Virtual Trainee (VT) I have learned a lot about the AUCD network and have recognized how, throughout the years, AUCD trainees have become more involved in the network. This is probably due to the value that AUCD places on trainees and its commitment to increasing trainee communication and involvement within the network. The role of VT is a testament to this, as the VT's position is dedicated solely to sustaining and enhancing the network of AUCD trainees. As the VT this year, I have had the opportunity to communicate with trainees and increase trainee involvement through conferences and meetings, as well as virtually. The opportunities the VT position has afforded me has allowed me to improve my leadership skills, enhanced my development as a professional, and provided many opportunities for networking.

At the beginning of my VT year, AUCD supported my attendance at the 2010 AUCD Conference. Along with 64 trainees from around the country, I gained valuable knowledge, received a warm welcome from AUCD staff and Board of Directors, and had the opportunity to meet and socialize with fellow trainees. I realized at this conference the true network AUCD has developed. It was evident to me when I looked back to the March 2003 LEND newsletter that trainees have had the opportunity to experience this for over 8 years. I reviewed a submission from New Hampshire trainees Maria Agorastou and Rebecca Carman (now a Senior Program Specialist at AUCD), who wrote about their experiences at the 2002 AUCD Conference: "It was a great way to get connected with other trainees.... It was a highlight of our training experience!" I agree. At the Annual Conference, I was excited to be welcomed into the network, eager to get more involved and motivated to have my fellow trainees involved.

This year, I also had the opportunity to attend the 2011 Disability Policy Seminar (DPS) with 128 AUCD trainees, a total of 30% of DPS attendees. There were multiple trainee events: a gathering of Northeast LEND trainees; an overview of the DPS by Kim Musheno; a reception and social gathering. In the 2003 LEND newsletter, the very first VT, Beth Bryant-Claxton, at the time a post-doctoral fellow in Psychology at the Westchester Institute for Human Development in NY and now the Director of the Positive Behavior Supports Training Project at Partners for Inclusive Communities-- University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UCEDD and LEND) as well as the Chair of AUCD's Council for Interdisciplinary Service, provided a summary of her experiences at the DPS (previously the Governmental Affairs Symposium). Beth highlighted two trainee events: a meet-and-greet reception and a presentation on policy and appropriations. It was eye-opening to me to see how much the trainee network has grown in just a few years, as evidenced by the increase in trainee specific events alone!

Fellow trainees who attended the DPS and I had the opportunity to share our experience through AUCD's first trainee-led webinar. Nick McNeill (a Health Policy fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion and Childrens Hospital Boston, Massachusetts), Lancing Adams (a Public Administration fellow at the Center for Developmental Disability, New Mexico), Lynise Parisien (a Family Trainee at the MIND/LEND program in Nashville, Tennessee), Angela Huss (a Social Work fellow at Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, University of Rochester Medical Center, New York ), and Pam Thyng (a Child Advocacy and Family Policy at the Institute on Disability in New Hampshire) shared what they learned at the DPS, as well as reflections of their Hill visits. In addition, we captured trainees' reflections from the DPS in a publication. Trainees provided feedback on what they learned at the DPS, their Hill visits, and what had the most significant impact on them as a result of attending the DPS. For example, Frank Wartinger, an Audiology Fellow at the Institute for Community Inclusion, Massachusetts UCEDD/LEND/IDDRC shared, "One thing I will bring back to my LEND program is...a newfound feeling of importance for the policy activism side of working with individuals with disabilities. It is slow going, but important work that paves the way for greater improvement in the current systems of health care delivery and community supports."

AUCD continually assesses and evaluates how to best develop the network of trainees. Last year, Lisa Jacola, a LEND/UCEDD trainee at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center completing her PhD in Clinical Psychology at the University of Cincinnati, developed the Trainee Liaisons program. We have 26 Trainee Liaisons this year who communicate directly with the trainees at their UCEDD/LEND/IDDRC sites to provide them with information and encourage their active involvement in the network. Trainee Liaisons also engage in additional leadership activities, such as reviewing proposals for the AUCD Annual Conference and participating in the DPS debriefing webinar. This year and last, the Trainee Liaisons have provided the Virtual Trainee and AUCD network with information about how to improve trainee networking and communication and increase the number of trainees linked with the AUCD network through social media and electronic means. We continue to evaluate the effectiveness of the Trainee Liaison program, but as a previous Trainee Liaison I can say that it allowed me to recognize the importance and benefits of the AUCD network and increased my desire to become more involved in the network.

Beth also reported in the 2003 LEND newsletter the launch of trainee listserv, created so trainees could get to know each other, share information, and remain informed of upcoming conferences, employment opportunities, and relevant information. Once again, we've come a long way in 8 years. Now, in 2011 the listserv has 635 active members and not only do we reach trainees through the listserv, but the VT has a Twitter account (@AUCDvt), and a Facebook page with 5,395 views of the messages we post and 311 people who "like" the page. I have realized that in the nature of AUCD, the use of these approaches allows us, trainees, to remain connected with each other, share our experiences, learn, and develop as professionals in the network.

As this year comes to a close, I am truly grateful for the opportunities I have had as AUCD's VT. I have attended conferences and meetings (i.e., 2010 AUCD Annual Conference, 2011 DPS, Maternal and Child Health Prelude to Strategic Planning Meeting, and 75th Anniversary MCH Meeting) to network and communicate with trainees and have also "virtually" connected with trainees. Through this year, I have gained a better understanding of the MCH and AUCD networks and national issues related to persons with disabilities and special health care needs. I have been able to disseminate this information to trainees and witnessed their interest and dedication to becoming involved and staying connected with the AUCD network. I have seen the commitment of MCHB and AUCD to trainees and seen the growth of the AUCD trainee virtual network.

I would like to thank AUCD for supporting me in forming connections with members of the AUCD network, enhancing my leadership skills, and fostering my professional development. Fellow trainees, I would like to thank you for your involvement this year; I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. I look forward to remaining connected with you through the AUCD network and seeing the impact of your work in the upcoming years.

Suzanne Engel, PsyD
2010-2011 Virtual Trainee
Post-doctoral Fellow
Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities
University of Rochester Medical Center, NY

Click HERE if you are a current trainee who is interested in being the 2011-2012 Virtual Trainee