Before transferring to the University of Redlands, Rebecca Aguirre Rios ’23 was earning her associate's degree, the first step to a future career in nursing. When nursing school applications surged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, she decided to pivot.
“I chose Redlands because of the Truesdail Center,” she says, referring to the facility that houses the University’s Communication Sciences and Disorders program. “It’s ideal for students because of the major and the clinic, and Redlands was a local school.”
Aguirre Rios—who grew up in nearby Banning, California, and transferred to Redlands from College of the Desert—was interested in working with an older population. As a Native American, learning from and helping elders is ingrained in her culture. That opportunity was one of the attractions of speech-language pathology.
“A lot of the demand for speech-language pathologists comes from nursing homes because they work on swallowing and speech,” she says. “I can still get all of my passions in one place. Eventually, it all works the way it’s supposed to.”
Envisioning her future
In one of her first classes at Redlands, Aguirre Rios learned about the lives and careers of speech-language pathologists (SLPs). The field offers multiple career possibilities: starting a private practice, entering academia, working in a medical or educational setting, and more.
“My professor was a business owner, a speech-language pathologist, and an educator,” she says. “I know that I have options because I see real-life women in the profession.”
Aguirre Rios is intrigued by the specifics of communication disorders: studying how speech works, learning about anatomy and articulation, examining communication and how it affects peoples’ lives. Additionally, she has a personal tie—as a child, she worked with her own speech therapist.
“I suffered from a really severe stutter,” she remembers. “My grandmother read to me constantly, and I worked with a speech therapist at school.” For her sessions, Aguirre Rios was taken to another classroom to work on the pitch and tone of her voice. Nowadays, speech therapists often sit next to their clients in their classes, assisting them in real-time.
Aguirre Rios’s ultimate goal is to start her own private practice after completing a Ph.D. in speech-language pathology, which will also enable her to work as a professor to educate future SLPs. At Redlands, she has found role models who have helped her envision her future career.
“Professor Sujin Shin has had the biggest impact on me,” she says. “She’s both an SLP and a professor, and she taught my anatomy and physiology course. Her teaching style was exactly how I want to teach someday—her lessons, notes, and quizzes were presented in a way that allowed me to learn and comprehend the material.”
When she’s not in the classroom, Aguirre Rios spends time pursuing her hobbies and attending events on campus. As a first-generation college student, getting involved in the campus community is one of her priorities. She regularly writes poetry during the creative writing club’s weekly gatherings, attends meetings for transfer students, and is the president of the Native American Student Union (NASU).
Being able to connect with her culture and other students has been a common theme throughout Aguirre Rios’s life. In high school, she was the president of the Native American Indian Club. When she learned about Redlands’ Native Student Programs during a campus tour, she was eager to get involved and decided to run for NASU president after attending her first meeting.
“Redlands is appreciative of the culture,” says the San Manuel Excellence in Leadership Scholarship recipient. “I'm Cahuilla, and if you look around campus, there are signs that acknowledge that we're on Cahuilla and Serrano land. It's great to see because that's literally me."
In her free time, Aguirre Rios runs a small business where she sells traditional beaded earrings that she makes by hand and participates in bird dancing, an important tradition that has been passed down for centuries by tribes in Southern California.
This strong identification with her culture was fostered by Aguirre Rios’s grandmother—the same person who read to her to help her overcome her stutter as a child. “My grandmother used to tell me that being Native is the best thing you can be,” she says. “Now I know exactly what she meant.”