After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology and master’s degree in speech-language pathology at The George Washington University, Arlene A. Pietranton began working at the GWU Medical Center. She held positions in the Washington center that included director of speech-language pathology, director of rehabilitation services and administrative director of the Neurological Institute.
But Pietranton also wanted to continue her education in a little different field — psychology. And she was raising young daughters at the same time. But she kept at it, going to school part-time and finishing the doctorate degree in about a dozen years.
Having an advanced degree in psychology not only helps Pietranton to manage people as CEO of the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association in Rockville, but it helps her to better understand how to be supportive of people who have speech or hearing difficulties, particularly because of a medical trauma like a stroke or brain tumor.
“I’m not licensed as a psychologist, but the training and understanding I received have been invaluable in applying that to my present work,” Pietranton said.
As the incoming board chairwoman of the American Society of Association Executives, Pietranton is broadening her skills and experience beyond the speech-hearing arena even more. She has been on the board of that organization, which represents more than 21,000 association executives and partners from some 10,000 organizations, for the past six years. Associations represented include those of home builders, retailers, civil engineers, tourist bureaus, bankers and more.
“It takes me into a much broader field,” Pietranton said. “There is probably not an industry sector that has not been touched by an association. When you are driving across a bridge, the safety standards of that structure have been influenced by the civil engineers association.”
Pietranton is a “consummate leader” who will help the association greatly to educate people about the impact of associations, said John H. Graham, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based ASAE.
Growing up in Rhode Island, Pietranton applied to numerous universities when it came time to think about college. “George Washington University was a good fit for my interests,” she said.
She entertained ideas of returning to Rhode Island after college but fell for the area’s culture and diversity. “It’s a really engaging environment,” Pietranton said.
After 16 years with GWU Medical Center, Pietranton became the chief staff officer for speech-language pathology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association and also worked on government and international relations. She was an active ASHA volunteer before joining the staff, including as a member of its Legislative Council and chairwoman of the ASHA political action committee. She also served as president of the District of Columbia Speech and Hearing Association.
Since taking over the top leadership position of the ASHA in 2004, Pietranton has seen membership continue to grow by more than 50,000 to about 166,000 audiologists, speech-language pathologists, scientists, support personnel and students. There has been a likewise growth in the number of employees, rising to about 260 from 220 a decade ago. The large majority are in Rockville.
The ASHA has a $50 million operating budget and is recognized consistently as a best place to work. In 2007, ASHA’s national office, which was newly built, was recognized as a Gold LEED certified building, the first association building in Maryland to receive such a designation.
The health care and education industries were not affected as much as some others like homebuilders and financial services during the recession, helping to maintain growth at the ASHA, which provides professional, scientific and credentialing services to members, Pietranton said. Unemployment among professionals in the field has held steady at only about 1 percent in recent years, she said.
An avid traveler, she has a goal of visiting at least one country in each continent as well as all 50 states.
“I still have some of the states in the West to visit,” Pietranton said. “And I haven’t been to South America, so that is on my list.”