Opening the World of Sound
Audiologist Carla Rondeau Rodriguez ’93 enriches lives internationally
By Stephanie Overton
A mother’s voice. The wind rippling through blades of grass. Water dripping from a faucet. Music. The words “Hello” or “I love you.” Laughter. Imagine being a 4-year-old, a 12-year-old or an adult and hearing those sounds and words for the first time. Imagine receiving the gift of sound.
With a master plan created early in Carla Rondeau Rodriguez’s young life, she maneuvered an incredible journey entrenched in the spirit of giving back and making a difference. She dared to imagine what seemed the impossible and embarked on a plan to achieve it.
Growing up in El Salvador, Rodriguez knew before graduating from high school that she wanted to work with people who experienced hearing disorders. There were no opportunities to continue her education in this field in her home country, so she researched programs in the United States. She was accepted into a number of universities, and ultimately chose Radford University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders program for her undergraduate degree.
“I applied to a lot of universities, but Radford’s program stood out,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a small program with amazing teachers and opportunities. Everyone was willing to help me.”
Claire M. Waldron, Ph.D., professor emeritus of communication sciences and disorders, was Rodriguez’s advisor and as she describes, her “guardian angel.”
“She was one of my all-time favorite students,” Waldron said. “I supervised Carla during a clinical trial with our most difficult client, a 2-year-old child who couldn’t hear. She was creative, resourceful and joyful in her interactions with him. He was difficult to engage, but Carla found ways to engage him, like finding a toy that excited him,” recalled Waldron.
Rodriguez remembers that little boy as being a pivotal experience that impacted her career and life.
“He showed me what hearing aids can really mean to a family. My experience with him was key to helping me select my master’s area of study,” Rodriguez said.
“What’s wonderful about Carla and other students who are bilingual is that they can serve so many more people,” Waldron said.
Fast-forward through years of study and practice, Rodriguez is now an audiologist in her home country.
She always knew she would return home. It was her dream to be the first audiologist in El Salvador. She met her husband of 24 years, Frederic Rondeau, while they were both studying at Radford. They made the move to El Salvador after she earned her master’s degree at Gallaudet University.
It was then that the next phase of her dream was launched.
“We got a loan from a bank to build our clinic in El Salvador,” Rodriguez said.
The clinic was busy from the onset, and she was seeing lots of patients.
“Fred said, ‘Carla, you’re seeing all these patients, but they are not paying,’” Rodriguez recalled. “I was seeing 400 children, but people in El Salvador couldn’t afford to pay for hearing aids. We started raising money to provide the hearing aids.
“If you really want something, you have to fight for it. I believe God will make it happen if we are destined,” Rodriguez continued. “Be excited. Have the right attitude. People will feel your excitement.”
That is exactly what happened for the couple. Their excitement was met with the enthusiasm of someone who could help.
When William F. Austin, founder of the Starkey Hearing Foundation and CEO, owner and founder of Starkey Laboratories Inc., met with them, it made all the difference in the world. “Bill Austin met with us and visited El Salvador. He appreciated what we were doing,” Rodriguez said. From that meeting, Bill made the decision to support their mission. The Starkey Foundation is a humanitarian organization that provides hearing aids to economically challenged children and adults worldwide. It donates more than 38,000 hearing aids year round through the support of generous donors and selfless contributors.
Starkey Laboratories is a leading global manufacturer of custom-made hearing aids and donated more than 800 hearing aids for the children and families Carla serves in her clinic.
“Bill asked us to help Starkey build their foundation all over the world,” Rodriguez said. Specifically aiming to establish programs in countries like El Salvador where people cannot afford hearing aids, the Starkey Hearing Foundation has grown and now has programs in 64 countries.
Since 1997, Rodriguez has been the clinical director for the Starkey Hearing Foundation in El Salvador and the Starkey Laboratories’ audiology consultant for Latin America.
“I get up every morning, because it makes me happy to help people. It inspires me to help people have a better life,” she said.
In 1998, Rodriguez received the Humanitarian Award from the American Academy of Audiology. Her belief in herself, the help of others and her mission to serve has led to her impactful career.
“In the beginning, I had this amazing dream, but wasn’t sure that I could make it. Along the way, I have thought about everybody that has helped me and believed in me. I couldn’t let them down. Life isn’t easy; we go through things, but we just keep up. I have had guardian angels along the way,” Rodriguez said.