Graduating senior helps local families through bilingual speech-language pathology training
Melissa Reyes, a graduating senior at the University of Mississippi, discovered early on that her ability to translate for the Spanish-speaking community in her small town of Ripley was a powerful tool that helped the people she loved most: her family.
Reyes served as interpreter for her extended family that immigrated to the U.S. from Honduras and El Salvador just a generation before her, including her grandfather, who suffered from Parkinson’s, and young children in her family with communication disorders.
“Growing up, I knew nothing about speech-language pathology, and my family knows nothing about speech-language pathology, and we have children who need those resources,” Reyes said.
After attending Northeast Mississippi Community College, Reyes found the perfect academic fit in the UM Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, allowing her to pursue her passion to translate and help underserved communities access resources and clinical services they need.
“And that is my angle; at the end of all of this, I want to be a bilingual speech-language pathologist,” she said.
Reyes recently was accepted into the department’s competitive master’s program, the next step toward achieving that dream.
A full-time undergraduate student, Reyes works part time as a research assistant for Vishaka Rawool, chair and professor of communication sciences and disorders. She also serves as a volunteer interpreter at the UM Speech and Hearing Clinic and as an undergraduate clinician with the department’s HILL Program for children with receptive and expressive language delay, hearing impairment, Down syndrome, autism spectrum disorder and other disorders.
She is logging the same long hours, 7 a.m.-7 p.m., that she worked and attended classes before the university transitioned online. Although clients are unable to come to the clinic for face-to-face therapy and children are unable to attend HILL Program classes in person, she is still providing free translation services and babysitting a set of brothers who are in the program, helping them with Zoom meetings for school and therapies.
Reyes first met the brothers last summer during the HILL Program’s Social Skills Summer Camp, where she connected with one of her biggest supporters in the department, Gina Keene. Keene is a speech-language pathologist who oversees the HILL Program with the department’s other faculty members.
“One day, she was asking for extra help to shadow a child in the pre-K HILL program – one of the two brothers I babysit today,” Reyes said. “I am a big supporter of helping people and taking the opportunity to offer extra help because it teaches you a lesson.
“It doesn’t always necessarily mean there will be something to write on your resume, but it does teach you something new.”
Since that summer, Reyes has become an integral part of the HILL Program, and the young clients she connected with have become like family.
“She is involved on many levels: as an undergraduate clinician, a family liaison, an interpreter and a caregiver,” Keene said. “Many of our families have come to depend on and love Melissa.
“She exemplifies the combination of academic excellence and strong character that those of us involved in training students treasure. Our program is better because Melissa is a part of it.”
It was soon after Reyes’ first experience with the HILL Program that a Spanish-speaking family came to the clinic at the South Oxford Center for help with their 7-year-old son, who has hearing loss, a language disorder and behavior issues that concerned them. They asked her to interpret and translate for them.
“I interpret more for the mother,” Reyes said. “She’s starting to pick up on more English and understand what’s going on because as a mother, you want to be there for your child, but there’s a barrier. I work mainly with the parent, helping to provide all the information I can to her so that she can be there for her son.
“I couldn’t help but love them and have a personal connection with the boys I babysit. I just love the family. They don’t have all the benefits and all the resources that some of us are blessed with, and they are just so happy just to be a part of the HILL program.”
The communication sciences and disorders program is incredibly challenging and requires a tremendous amount of work and determination, Reyes said. She credits Rawool as her role model responsible for her success.
“She’s so strict, and it’s helped my life become more structured, more determined, more self-disciplined being with her,” Reyes said. “And I love her to death. She’s so funny. Every meeting I have a conversation with her, she’ll always say something so funny, but at the same time, we’re being very serious, and I’m like, ‘Do I laugh?’ because I want to.”
Rawool recognizes Reyes’ sincerity and hard work toward acquiring both an academic and clinical expertise in speech-language pathology.
“She has a great acumen for investigating the most current evidence base to serve her clients,” Rawool said. “With adequate guidance, she can intuitively figure out and execute the steps necessary to meet research goals assigned to her.
“Our field has a tremendous void of bilingual speech-language pathologists. As a bilingual service-provider, Melissa will be a great asset to the field of communication sciences and disorders.”
Reyes looks forward to completing her master’s and getting the certification she needs to be a licensed bilingual speech-language pathologist. She wants to practice close to home and serve the community that has been a source of love and support for her throughout her journey.
She is grateful to that community and her family, including her two sisters – Emily Reyes, a licensed practical nurse working to become a registered nurse, and Cindy Galvez, an elementary education major who wants to be a children’s pastor – and her parents, Karla Mazariego and Luis Galvez.
Her advice to the next class of Ole Miss Rebels is to take every opportunity to learn and help others.
“You learn a lesson, you expand your education and it just makes your experience at Ole Miss so much better,” Reyes said.
By Sarah Sapp/School of Applied Sciences