Inspired by Her Brother, Student Dedicates Her Scholarship to Helping Others Hear

Alexis Leiderman

Alexis Leiderman, a second-year student in The Graduate Center’s Audiology (Au.D.) program, grew up attending her little brother’s speech-language pathology and audiological appointments. Born profoundly deaf, he was diagnosed as a toddler and at 6 years old received bilateral cochlear implants, which allow sounds to bypass the outer and middle ears and directly stimulate the cochlea. Years of treatment enabled him to develop speech and language skills. “He’s worked so hard to get where he is today,” Leiderman says. Thanks to the implants and his ability to lip read, she says, “Even if it’s a noisy environment, if you’re sitting close enough to him, he’ll be able to have a full conversation with you.”

Her brother has remained an inspiration to her. Leiderman was recently elected as the national Student Academy of Audiology (SAA) president-elect for the 2021-2022 term, and will serve as its president the following school year. The position means she will oversee a student board of directors and play a lead role in carrying out the organization’s mission to “advance the rights, interests, and welfare of students pursing careers in audiology.” 

Leiderman began taking her steps toward the audiology profession while she was an undergraduate at Binghamton University, SUNY. She created an internship for herself and shadowed audiologists in Westchester and the New York City area. Before applying to The Graduate Center, she volunteered in Professor Brett Martin’s Audiology & Auditory Evoked Potentials Laboratory, where she helped Ph.D. students with their experiments, including one in which her role was to “distract the baby in the sound booth,” she jokes, adding that the purpose was to “analyze auditory stimuli using MatLab software.” Martin, who is part of both the Audiology and Speech-Language-Hearing Sciences Ph.D. programs, is now Leiderman’s adviser.

During her first year in the program, Leiderman managed to have several part-time jobs, including working as an office assistant for a private audiology practice, while attending school full time. She had just received a research fellowship to work on a study in Martin’s lab when the pandemic struck. That put her study on hold, along with the internship she would have had in CUNY’s audiology clinics, based at The Graduate Center, Brooklyn College, and Hunter College. “Because of COVID, we’ve had a lot of online clinics — treating ourselves, within our clinic group, and familiarizing ourselves with the equipment,” she says. “The program made sure to focus on our theoretical understanding of the practice.” 

This summer, in-person placements will resume, and students in the Audiology program will be placed at various sites around city where they will treat patients under supervision. Leiderman will be working at Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. “It’s been an unconventional time, but also led to tremendous opportunity,” she says of the past year, noting that even hearing aid checkups can be completed virtually. Since last fall, she has also gained experience as a research associate for the Cochlear Implant Research Group at Columbia University. Still, she is eager to start having direct interactions with patients this summer. 

In the future, Leiderman hopes to earn a Ph.D. and work in a hospital-based setting. Not surprisingly, she also wants to have a private practice. “I am forever grateful for my brother’s audiologist and the team that worked with him,” she says. “I was able to see firsthand just how much of a difference patient-centered care really makes, not only for the patient but for the family.” 

And in the coming months, she’s looking forward to hiking some high peaks with her family, back home in rural Westchester. Leiderman, who is an Adirondack 46er, says one of her favorite sounds is hearing the leaves rustling on the mountains, yet the shutdown has made her miss particular New York City sounds, such as street and subway performers. “But the other day, I was walking through Central Park and there was a saxophonist playing from memory,” she says. “The city is starting to come back.”

Submitted on: MAR 29, 2021

Category: Audiology (Au.D) | GCstories | General GC News | Science Programs | Student News | Voices of the GC