Fresno State Dean’s Medalist is a rare bilingual speech therapist. ‘Give back to my people’ – Fresno Bee

Fresno State Graduate Dean’s Medalist Jennifer Duran is photographed on campus at Fresno State on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.

Fresno State Graduate Dean’s Medalist Jennifer Duran is photographed on campus at Fresno State on Tuesday, Might 21, 2024.


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Jennifer Duran has a strong sense of perseverance — just like her mom.

Duran, 27, was first diagnosed with hearing loss at the age of three when her mother Delfina, an agricultural worker originally from Tlapancingo, Oaxaca, noticed her daughter wasn’t hearing all the sounds around her.

“It was her intuition,” Duran told The Bee. “I would call out to her, ‘Mom, mom, mom,’ and she’d be like, ‘I’m right here, I’m right here,’” recalled Duran. “I would still keep crying … I would have to physically see her (in order to be consoled).”

But securing Duran’s hearing aids wasn’t an easy journey for her mom.

Delfina first took her daughter to a pediatrician for a screening, but was told everything was OK. Even Duran’s father and uncles dismissed her mom’s concerns. “They would tell her ‘you’re crazy … she can hear us fine.’”

Finally, after a school-based screening, school staff urged Delfina to take Duran to an audiologist. She’s been using hearing aids ever since for her hearing loss in both ears.

On Saturday, Duran, a Fresno State Graduate Dean’s Medalist, earned her M.A. in communicative sciences and deaf studies, with an emphasis in speech-language pathology and a 4.0 GPA.

She’s on a mission to help immigrant and non-English speaking parents and families navigate the bureaucratic hurdles to accessing — and understanding — the specialized services their children need.

“I want to provide as much of my help and give back to my people as much as I can,” she said. “My mom doesn’t speak English, so I’m sure she had a really difficult time talking to the doctor, talking to teachers trying to get the services that I needed.”

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This upcoming school year, Duran will start as a speech-language pathologist with Fresno Unified School District.

Speech-language pathologists are trained specialists that assess and treat people who have speech disabilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 171,400 SLPs nationwide and the industry is expected to grow by 20% between 2022 to 2032, or “much faster than average.”

AJ Kato, a spokesperson for the district said in an email statement that “Fresno Unified Special Education is excited to welcome Jennifer Duran to the Speech and Language Pathologist Team for the 2024/2025 school year. Our bilingual Speech Pathologists play an integral part in supporting assessments for our students. Jennifer’s skill set and cultural perspective will be an asset to our Fresno Unified students.”

Fresno State Graduate Dean’s Medalist Jennifer Duran is photographed on campus at Fresno State on Tuesday, May 21, 2024.
Fresno State Graduate Dean’s Medalist Jennifer Duran is photographed on campus at Fresno State on Tuesday, Might 21, 2024. CRAIG KOHLRUSS

She will be one of the few bilingual speech pathologists in California and nationwide (as well as one of the few nationwide who is also hard-of-hearing.) According to an American Speech-Language-Hearing Association 2022 survey, only 8.3% of the association’s 217,886 constituents self-identified as multilingual service providers, of which 67% were Spanish-speakers.

Duran thinks the audiology field and the central San Joaquin Valley need more diverse, multilingual SLPs who understand the nuances of Spanish, Hmong or multilingual children.

Sometimes, she said, Spanish-speaking children are misdiagnosed with a speech pathology by monolingual and bilingual speech-language pathologists alike not being given enough education regarding working with these communities.

For example, Spanish speakers tend to develop the sound for the letter “R“ later than English-speakers.

“I just didn’t think it was fair that we’re having kids who aren’t getting assessed properly and they’re getting services (they might not need),” she said.

Duran’s friends say she’s the type of person who you want on your group project, the type of friend that always checks up on yo when you’re down.

“Despite the challenges she has faced, she remains grounded and focused on making a positive impact in the world,” said classmate and friend Vanessa Price in an email to The Bee. “Her passion for serving others in the community knows no bounds.”

One day, Duran plans to use social media to educate other SLPs about bilingualism, advocate for her community and offer support to other hard of hearing individuals. For now, though, she looks forward to having more free time now that school is over and visiting the beach with friends.

Ojo: The Latino student enrollment at Fresno State is 55.9%, according to California State University data.

Associated tales from Fresno Bee

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Melissa Montalvo is The Fresno Bee’s authorities accountability reporter. She is an everyday contributor to La Abeja, The Bee’s free weekly publication on Latino points.Previous to this function, she coated Latino communities for the Fresno Bee because the a part of the Central Valley Information Collaborative in addition to labor and financial system for The Fresno Bee/Fresnoland as a Report for America Corps member.

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