DePaul University Newsline > Sections > Blue Demon Spotlight > Dedication and transformation: Mara Contreras' journey from translator to speech-language pathology student

Dedication and transformation: Mara Contreras' journey from translator to speech-language pathology student


Mara Contreras
(Photo by Jeff Carrion/DePaul University)

In a remarkable testament to the power of determination, Mara Contreras, a graduate student in speech-language pathology, embodies the transformative spirit of DePaul University's mission. Hailing from an immigrant family and eldest of four siblings, her journey is a shining example of turning challenges into opportunities.

Growing up, Contreras found herself taking on responsibilities beyond her years. As the primary translator for her mother and caretaker for her younger siblings - one of whom has ADHD and another who falls on the autism spectrum - Contreras’ role within her family was pivotal.
Once in college, she found that navigating as a first-generation student presented its own set of challenges. However, her unwavering commitment to her family's well-being and her own education pushed her to succeed.
Contreras credits much of her success to her experience in a community program called "Horizons for Youth," which uses tutoring, mentoring and internships to assist student development and academic preparation.  
“As a first-generation college student, I felt that imposter syndrome would ultimately be the reason I was not going to finish school,” Contreras says. “But through the love and support of Horizons, I got through the tough times, and I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree.” 
Contreras notes that she came to understand her early life experiences were not challenges, but steppingstones. 

"My role as a translator and caregiver ignited a passion within me to help individuals overcome communication barriers and reach their full potential,” Contreras explains. “And I was able to see that doing this work was possible through my mentor at Horizons.”

Another hurdle for Contreras may have been that speech-language pathology professionals in the United States have historically been predominantly white. However, the profession has made efforts in recent years to diversify the field to provide culturally sensitive services to clients from diverse backgrounds, making Contreras’ path just a little easier.

“DePaul was my number one choice because the community here is unlike no other,” Contreras says. “It reminds me of Horizons in many ways.” She was also drawn to the bilingual English-Spanish specialization certificate in speech-language pathology at DePaul.

Elia Olivares, PhD, CCC-SLP and director of culturally and linguistically diverse programs, said students like Contreras are exactly why DePaul offers the bilingual certificate. 

“The program was developed to academically and clinically prepare future bilingual speech-language pathologists with the needed research-based knowledge and evidenced-based practices to provide speech and language services to Latinx families and their children with disabilities,” Olivares says. “Through concentrated academic coursework, on/off clinical practicum experiences and community service and engagement projects, BESSC-SLP upholds the principles of advocacy, community, justice and equity for the marginalized members of the Latinx community.”  

Contreras truly reflects DePaul’s mission of justice, service and human dignity. Her journey reminds us all that the path to success is often forged through adversity, determination and the support of loved ones.
As she continues her journey, there is no doubt that Contreras will not only achieve her own dreams, but also inspire hope in others.