Editor's note: This is one in a series of stories highlighting Concordia's May 2020 graduates.
As someone who grew up in a predominantly Spanish-speaking household in small-town Horicon, Wisconsin, Emily Torres understands the difficulties that can come for a student who does not receive sufficient language instruction and support.
Torres was one of only two Hispanic students in her grade school classroom. While her teachers – none of whom were certified as English Language Learner instructors – went above and beyond to help her succeed, Torres often had to find and rely upon her own comprehension strategies.
“None of my teachers were ever rude about it. There just wasn’t enough support,” Torres said. “I had one teacher, Mrs. Wosley, who would read stories with me after school in both Spanish and English. She did what she could to help tutor me, even without the qualifications. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t think I would be where I am today.”
It’s a big part of the reason why Torres is working her way toward becoming a speech-language pathologist. She’s completed the requisite courses to achieve her Bachelor of Science in Communication Sciences and Disorders and has been accepted into Concordia’s Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology program. Tomorrow, she’ll join Concordia’s 848 other May 2020 candidates who will have their degrees virtually conferred, and in June, she’ll begin the next phase of her academic journey.
Torres initially thought she wanted to become a nurse. In high school, she deliberately chose to take on certain medical and science electives to help her on her way. When she began Concordia’s nursing program, however, she knew it wasn’t the right fit.
Thankfully, with the multitude of other healthcare-related programs offered at Concordia, Torres didn’t have to look very far to explore a new career path. Around the same time that she attended an information session on CUW’s Communication Sciences and Disorders undergraduate program, Torres’ young niece was diagnosed with a speech disorder.
“Watching my niece go through a version of what I went through, as well as having a speech impediment on top of it, really inspired me to learn more about this area as a profession,” Torres said. “The instructors and experiences I’ve had at Concordia have confirmed that this is my vocation.”
Torres’ bilingual skills – combined with her incredible work ethic and the personal attention paid by Concordia’s faculty – took her far in the program. Torres earned herself a clinical opportunity her senior year (an opportunity reserved for students who pursue certain pre-requisites and maintain a high enough GPA) and was placed at St. Martini Lutheran School in Milwaukee, where nearly 89 percent of the student body is of Latin descent and many of whom live in a predominantly or solely Spanish-speaking household.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 disrupted much of her clinical experience, but thanks to Concordia’s partnership with the Milwaukee school, she’ll have opportunities to serve St. Martini students as part of her graduate studies.
Torres credits her work ethic to her parents and uncle. Growing up, they were persistent in their support and verbal affirmation of her academic achievements. Torres’ uncle unexpectedly passed away a few years ago, but she knows he would have been proud to see her achieve this milestone.
“[My uncle] really did help me a lot with school and always pushed me and my cousins toward graduation. He was always there for all the basketball games – even though I was a very bad basketball player,” Torres said with a smile. “Hopefully he’s happy with where I’ve ended up.”
Torres and her 2020 classmates will be honored at a virtual degree conferral ceremony on Saturday, May 16. They will be celebrated in person at the December commencement celebration. These changes are in response to the Coronavirus. To learn more about Concordia’s response, click here.
— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 262-243-2149.
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