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01 July, 2013

Sharing Her Story: A Virtual Trainee Reflects back on a Year with AUCD

Stephanie Weber, PsyD
AUCD Virtual Trainee 2012-2013

Serving as the 2012-2013 AUCD Virtual Trainee has been an amazing experience and I thank you deeply for this opportunity and the support to make the year so successful. This position is very valuable to the professional development of not only the Virtual Trainee but other Trainees who see the work of the VT and know the AUCD Network is a welcoming place to share ideas and build skills for leadership in the field of developmental disabilities.

There were so many highlights from this experience that it is hard to touch on only a few. In our LEND we have a heavy focus on the MCH Leadership Competencies, so I have framed my experience through that lens; when I reflect on my experiences as Virtual Trainee in terms of the MCH Competencies, I have definitely improved my skills in all 12 areas! In the area of Self, I have learned a great deal about the AUCD Network and increased my MCH Knowledge Base. It was wonderful to learn more about the Network connections directly from AUCD Staff when I visited the office in August, which set the foundation for projects throughout the year. My participation on the “AUCD and Me” webinar in the fall was beneficial to learn more about the Network and how to conduct a webinar! Trainees approached me at the Annual Conference and the Disability Policy Seminar to comment on how much that webinar helped frame up their understanding of the large Network of AUCD. Additionally, I was grateful to participate in the Board Meeting at the Annual Conference to gain a better understanding of the outstanding work being done in the committees and across the Centers. By organizing discussion posts for the AUCD and MCH Trainee Listserves, Facebook page, and Twitter, I was able to connect Trainees by sharing knowledge and resources used in Centers all over the country. Trainees seemed to find a great deal of value in learning from each other and having their questions answered through these social media outlets.

In the MCH area of Others, I have found so many opportunities to improve my skills in Communication by participating as the VT. Prior to the Annual Conference, I created a brief survey asking Trainees to share the areas of their work for which they feel most passionate. There was an overwhelming response and Trainees showed their diversity in their responses. They were excited to see the finished product, a “word cloud” of the responses, at the conference. In addition, with the support of AUCD Staff Rebecca and Crystal, I was able to lead a Trainee Networking Event which was hugely successful. Trainees provided feedback that they would have liked it to last even longer! The Trainee Liaisons also provided an exceptional opportunity to improve communication skills through email and conference calls. This was the first year for holding quarterly conference calls and they were very well received by TLs. Through these calls, TLs provided their feedback and requested to hold a Trainee-led webinar, which was carried out in March. With assistance from Dr. Tamar Heller, two Trainees were able to participate on a webinar offering information on international disability work. This provided a glimpse of the Trainee’s leadership skills that others may have never received without the work and planning of the VT with the TLs.

At year’s end, the vast majority of TL’s talked excitedly about wanting to remain connected with the AUCD network and each other, working as young professionals to support one another and incoming trainees while keeping their connection to the AUCD Network. Helping this next generation of trainees grow their awareness and connection to the Network is something I’m especially proud of during my tenure!  I was very fortunate this year to be able to work closely with Jody Pirtle, the new Board Trainee, brainstorming new ways to get and keep trainees excited about being a part of the incredible AUCD network. Having an experienced mentor/former VT to work with allowed me to not spin my wheels and instead be more efficient by learning from and building on her experience. Maintaining continuity from year to year is difficult with a typical one year trainee schedule, so this was extremely valuable to me. To have the trainee and young professional network recognized with a seat on the Board has also made a very positive difference in how trainees are recognized within the network, and trainees and TLs on calls and at conferences and events both made comments about and seemed to embrace that recognition by working harder to be strong AUCD members and future Network leaders.
Policy and Advocacy has been an area of the Wider Community Competencies that has made a lasting impression of my professional development directly because of activities from this year as VT. I had a front row seat to the excitement of the 2012 Presidential Election by being an Ohio citizen, and this made the National Forum on Disability Issues in Columbus, Ohio, an extremely exciting experience. I was grateful to attend and relay information on the presented issues back to the Trainee network. Additionally, at the AUCD Conference, given the timing of the vote on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), I led a large group of Trainees to Capitol Hill to educate legislators on the issue. What an experience! This was an impromptu trip based overwhelming number of Trainees who indicated they wanted to do whatever they could to support ratification of CRPD. This was an amazing opportunity to put our leadership skills to work! It also provided many Trainees, including myself, the confidence to meet with legislators at Hill Day at the Disability Policy Seminar. This was yet another wonderful week of experiences to help shape my passion for advocacy and knowledge of the issues and ways to best influence policy development.

Overall, I could have never imagined I would have gained so much in terms of my leadership skills in just under one year. I look forward to working with the newly named VT on understanding the role so he/she can hit the ground running for 2013-2014. Again, I am grateful to the AUCD Board and Staff for the continued support and recognition of the importance of the VT position, both at the individual and Network level. Thank you!


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