Latina and MS SLP grad ElianaEliana Rivera, a recent graduate from our Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology (MS SLP) program here at Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions (RMUoHP), always knew that she wanted to be a speech-language pathologist (SLP), but that doesn’t mean her path getting there was without its challenges.

Rivera said, “I wanted to be an SLP, so I knew I had to get a master’s degree, but honestly, I didn’t know what that meant.” She is the first person in her family to go to college, so she had to navigate all those processes and experiences on her own–through undergraduate school and on to her master’s. “I didn’t know what graduate school meant until I got there,” said Rivera. 

For her family, especially her dad, explained Rivera, “The way you grow up is you work, you get a job, and you build your life that way…he didn’t really understand why I wanted to go to school and why I needed to go to school longer than four years of undergrad.”

But for Rivera, she knew why. “I want to make an impact on families and communities–that’s my big picture dream,” said Rivera. Once her certification paperwork goes through, Rivera will be working in a pediatric practice doing early intervention care with children and families. But she doesn’t plan to stop there.

“I want to make an impact on transgender voice services, especially in cities that don’t have those resources,” said Rivera. During her undergraduate education, she attended a presentation on transgender voice services and knew that’s what she wanted to do. And that’s why she came to RMUoHP for her master’s degree.

Rivera wanted an SLP master’s program where she could grow. “Choosing RMUoHP, I wanted a place that would make me feel comfortable to grow and learn and ask questions. I wanted to go to a school where I knew I could come out and feel that I changed; not just that I had learned a bunch of stuff, but a place that was going to help me grow socially and professionally,” said Rivera.

Being part of just the second cohort of students in the MS SLP program at RMUoHP gave her that opportunity. “ With RMUoHP, I had the opportunity to build and create so many cool moments,” said Rivera. “I was able to get involved with the LGBTQ+ community and provide a service. By my second semester, I was the leading clinician for five transgender clients, under faculty supervision.” Through those experiences, she was able to make connections with her faculty and members of the community.

As an SLP Latina student, Rivera often felt that others expected her to become a bilingual SLP because of her heritage. While she had to overcome some of those cultural expectations, Rivera found success in following her passions. “Being the first person in my family to get a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree–that for me is success,” said Rivera.

“I feel successful that I’m happy and excited about the career that I’ve chosen. There is always the fear of getting this far into a career and not being sure about it,” continued Rivera, “but I feel good that I’m happy and loving it. I didn’t quit. That to me says success.”

Rivera says that her experience in getting her master’s degree has not only brought her satisfaction and excitement for her future career, but her education has changed her view on life and the world. “When I started my master’s, it was as if I was looking through a straw. I saw such a small part of the world, including education and healthcare. Through these last two years, I’ve absorbed so much information about speech pathology and the world,” said Rivera. 

“Our world is diverse, and when you bring in diversity, you have less disparity. It’s not just about having more Latinos or people of different races in healthcare. It’s also listening to those people and finding out what they need. That’s why it’s important to have and push for diversity in healthcare.”

Rivera says that her experiences serving on the RMUoHP Student Diversity Committee and working with marginalized groups helped expand her world view. “I feel like being celebrated and accepted for my cultural heritage and learning about different groups has helped me see the good about education and healthcare and has helped me see areas that can be improved on. There is so much more out there that I never knew before I went through the program at RMUoHP.”

She adds, “Being a good professional and SLP isn’t just about knowing your textbook information. It’s about being a good person and a competent person in your community.”