Alumni Spotlight: Elizabeth Hernandez
Elizabeth Hernandez ’09 ’13
When Elizabeth Hernandez ’09 ’13 was 8 years old, her family moved from Puerto Rico to the Central Florida area. At the time, Elizabeth didn’t know any English, and was placed into ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) classes to help her learn the language. By the time she went to high school, she had mastered the language but faced other challenges, including getting up at 4 a.m. to ride two different city buses to get to class on time. Now, four years after receiving her master’s in speech-language pathology, Elizabeth is still going places.
Elizabeth Hernandez’s mother had limited postsecondary education, but she knew that education was the key to escaping the cycle of low socioeconomic status to which she herself had been born. So at every chance, her mother encouraged her children to read. To learn. To listen.
Hernandez’s decision to study speech-language pathology was inspired by her older brother, who is deaf. She learned basic American Sign Language (ASL) to communicate with him, and, as a natural extension, language became her passion. At UCF, Elizabeth would go on to receive an undergraduate certificate in ASL.
As an undergraduate, Hernandez was not as involved with campus life – her full-time job did not leave her with a lot of extra time.
However, when she was accepted into the graduate speech-language pathology program, she and other students formed a private group on social media, and used it as a study group and a way to become more engaged with the UCF community.
Hernandez and her friends have continued staying in touch, and often reach out to each other for professional and personal updates. “We have become lifelong friends,” she said.
At Nemours Children’s Hospital, where Hernandez is a Bilingual Speech and Language Pathologist/Hearing Specialist, she regularly works with young children who have received a cochlear implant.
Cochlear implants are small, complex electronic devices that can help provide a sense of sound to a person who is profoundly deaf, or severely hard-of-hearing, according to the National Institutes of Health.
For children who are born deaf or who lose their hearing before they are verbal, the implants enable them to develop listening and spoken language skills. Children who receive their implants at Nemours see Hernandez for therapy on a weekly basis to learn how to use the hearing provided by the device for understanding speech and learning to talk. The Cochlear Implant Program at Nemours consists of a multidisciplinary team that works together very closely. Being a part of this team allows Hernandez to participate in all areas of the child’s care, for example, assisting the child and audiologist during the initial activation of the cochlear implant system.
The activation of a cochlear implant is truly a momentous occasion, Hernandez said. “It’s always really nice to see a child’s reaction when they hear sound for the first time. I cry every time.” And although the internet is filled with touching videos of smiling children hearing their mother’s voice for the first time, it doesn’t always happen that way. Sometimes, the first sounds a child hears are such a surprise, Hernandez said, that the child is startled and may cry. Soon, however, their brain adjusts to sound and they quickly adapt to the device, she added. Hernandez then continues to work with the family in order to help the child develop hearing as an active sense so that listening becomes automatic and the child seeks out sounds in life.
Her career at Nemours is better than anything she ever dreamed, Hernandez said. She credits Linda Rosa-Lugo, associate professor and the director of the UCF Listening Center, for helping her achieve her goals.
“She really believed in me,” Hernandez said of Rosa-Lugo. “She gave me the opportunity, and she pushed me. I call her my SLP Mom.”
Rosa-Lugo first met Hernandez when she was a Speech-Language Clinician working with school-age children in Osceola County. In her role, Rosa-Lugo served as a mentor to the bachelor-level clinicians, including Hernandez. At the time, Rosa-Lugo had received a grant from the Department of Education to prepare speech-language pathologists to work with children with hearing loss. Already impressed with Hernandez’s work ethic, she had a proposal for her.
“During one of our meetings,” Rosa-Lugo said, “I spoke to Elizabeth about ‘taking a risk’ and entering the graduate program as a full-time graduate student.” The grant would pay for one year of Hernandez’s education.
“One of the memories I have of Elizabeth is the risk she took to do a specialized internship at Nemours Hospital in Jacksonville,” Rosa-Lugo said. “Here is where she demonstrated her commitment to learn, passion to work with children in the area of listening and spoken language, and her gift to have the competencies and proficiency in another language that would allow her to work with Hispanic families and their children with hearing loss.”
Upon receiving her master’s degree, Hernandez moved to South Florida for a clinical fellowship and worked at Miami Children’s Hospital. She eventually moved back to the area to be closer to her family, and to start work at Nemours.
Additionally, Hernandez is pursuing national certification from the AGBell Academy as a Listening and Spoken Language Specialist Certified Auditory Verbal Therapist (LSLS Cert. AVT). According to Rosa-Lugo, these professionals are a critical shortage in Florida. There are currently only 26 certified therapists in Florida who work one-on-one with children and families to provide listening and spoken language intervention for children who are deaf or hard of hearing and their families.
“I anticipate wonderful things from her,” Rosa-Lugo said.
When she’s not working, Hernandez said she is always planning her next vacation. She has been to the Bahamas, US Virgin Islands, United Kingdom, France and Italy. Last fall, she traveled to Colorado, where she hiked a mountain for the first time. “It was such a feeling of accomplishment,” Hernandez said. “I felt like I was on top of the world.”
If you would like to share your UCF story, please contact Camille Murawski.
By Camille Murawski ’98
Getting to Know Elizabeth Hernandez
Getting to Know Elizabeth Hernandez
What do you do?
I am a bilingual Speech and Language Pathologist (SLP) at Nemours Children’s Hospital. As an SLP I work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat a variety of communication disorders in children (speech, language, social communication, cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders). Among that, I specialize in working with children who are deaf or hard of hearing (DHH). I am a member of the Cochlear Implant Team at Nemours and provide auditory-based therapy to DHH families who have chosen listening and spoken language as their primary mode of communication.
Why do you do what you do?
Because it is extremely rewarding! I take pride in helping others communicate and advocate for their wants and needs. While growing up I developed an interest in the brain and language. I started with learning Spanish, then English, and lastly American Sign Language because of my deaf brother. Those interests lead me to Speech Pathology. This career is the perfect blend of science and art so it is a perfect fit for me.
What do you like most about your job?
Knowing that I am impacting a child’s life. I enjoy educating and empowering the parents of the children I work with. Watching a parent have an “ah-ha” moment as we are working together is amazing. Knowing that the “ah-ha” moment will lead to more progress in their child is priceless. Not one client is like the one before, so I get to use my creativity to keep therapy interesting, motivating, and beneficial.
What is your most memorable experience on the job?
It’s difficult to choose just one moment in time. The most memorable experience for me is witnessing a child meet major milestones over time. For example, seeing a deaf child’s reaction when they hear sound for the first time on their cochlear implant activation day is exciting. Then through hard work in therapy, getting to see a child begin to understand what they are hearing. Eventually, watching a child go from having no words to speaking in short sentences is just amazing.
What do you do for fun?
I like to explore. I’m usually looking up what’s new in the area to visit or what events are happening over the weekend.
What makes you laugh out loud?
Funny dog videos always get me.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I have often said jokingly that if I were not an SLP, I believe I would make a pretty good detective. I have a knack for examining and evaluating clues to uncover something. Investigating a crime or undercover operation sounds interesting to me.
What is the last thing you Googled?
Best restaurants near me
What has been your favorite city or country to visit?
Italy! During my time in Italy I visited Venice, Florence, Pisa, and Rome. It was beautiful and I can’t wait to go back.
If someone wrote a book about you, what would the title be?
“Defeating the Odds”
What has been the best meal of your life so far?
One meal I really enjoyed eating was conch salad in the Bahamas. It was really good and I think the experience made it that much better. My table was at the edge of the water so I could see the scuba diver diving in to catch my food. That’s as fresh as it gets! It was also neat to see them prepare it in front of me.
What songs would make up the soundtrack of your life?
Girl on Fire – Alicia Keys
Human – Christina Perri
Best Day of My Life – American Authors
What is the happiest and/or proudest moment of your life?
Receiving my master’s degree. I was a first-generation college graduate so it meant a lot making my family proud.
What is your favorite quote?
“Dance like there’s nobody watching, love like you’ll never be hurt, sing like there’s nobody listening, and live like it’s heaven on earth.” ~ William W. Purkey
If you were on an island and you could only bring 3 things, what would you bring?
A book, hammock, and a boat.
What superhero would you be and why?
Wonder Woman because she is the full package of beauty, brains, and brawn. Goddess of truth and warrior of peace. That’s admirable.
What is the last book you read?
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Why did you choose to attend UCF?
When I looked into the UCF Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, I quickly realized they offer unique opportunities to its students that you won’t find anywhere else. For example, graduate students are able to complete clinical training at the Aphasia House and/or UCF Listening Center (associated with the Communication Disorders Clinic). These programs are rare; therefore it’s exciting that UCF offers these specialty services. In addition, a four year grant was developed for a Speech/Language Pathology Graduate Specialization in Listening and Spoken Language in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children Who Are Deaf and Hard of Hearing (Project LSL-CLD).
How has your UCF degree helped in your career?
It has made all the difference! The preparation I received at UCF through coursework and externships has opened many doors for me. Aside from obtaining my B.A and M.A at UCF, I became a grant scholar of UCF’s Project LSL-CLD and through that training I obtained a graduate certificate in Early Intervention Hearing Specialist. That program is what put me on the path to specialize in working with children with hearing loss and because of that I am able to work as part of Nemours Children’s Hospital’s cochlear implant team.
What extracurricular activities were you involved in at UCF?
I took part of the UCF NSSLHA Chapter, UCF ASL Club, and intramural sports.
What is your favorite UCF memory?
The great friends I made in my cohort and all the fun events we attended together at UCF. My favorite is probably the football games we went to. Our cohort really supported each other throughout grad school and ended up becoming lifelong friends.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to your fellow Knights?
Get involved, make connections, attend events, and take advantage of everything UCF has to offer! I’m proud to be a UCF Knight.