Cal State LA Alumna Strives to Help Children Feel Understood

By Jillian Beck | Cal State LA News Service

Theora Brown

Cal State LA alumna Theora Brown, '20

Theora Brown, a May 2020 graduate of Cal State LA, wants to help young children feel heard. "I want them to be understood and to understand themselves," says Theora, 35, who earned a Bachelor of Arts in Communicative Disorders from Cal State LA's Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. "I want to work to help them know that even if they are different than their peers, they can work through it."

Earning a degree was the culmination of a 17-year journey for Theora. She first started at Cal State LA right out of high school in 2003. She majored in sociology and wanted to help others, but she was unsure about the professional path she would take.

She saw a pamphlet in the Educational Opportunity Program office about the field of speech language pathology. She was immediately fascinated and changed her major to communicative disorders. After struggling academically for a couple of years, however, Theora left Cal State LA.

Over the next decade, she married and started a family. But feeling unfulfilled working at a credit union, Theora decided to return to school, encouraged by her husband. She was accepted again to Cal State LA.

With a strong support system, she was determined to make her university experience better the second time around—for herself and for her fellow students.

Theora served as a student coordinator for the RISE Peer Mentoring Program, which pairs continuing students with new students to help them successfully settle into university life.

The goal of RISE, which stands for Retention through Interpersonal Student Engagement, is to improve the experience of Black students and their allies who are either first-time freshmen or transfer students during their first year.

"When you have someone going through it with you, you can relate on a different level," Theora says. She helped prospective students find their way around campus as a tour guide and worked as an orientation leader for three summers.

Theora had aspired to work with adults recovering from the effects of strokes on speech and cognitive abilities. But through her courses at Cal State LA, she realized that her passion lies with helping children, especially children of color.

Theora credits faculty like Erica Ellis, John Gomez, Heather DeFelice and Maureen Jennings with connecting coursework with real-world examples. Her dedication to helping young children grew even stronger after she worked as a volunteer with 4- to 8-year-olds, some verbal and some nonverbal, on their social skills.

"Seeing the growth of a nonverbal child who starts to vocalize or make the sound of words was just amazing," she says.

Theora, who lives in South Los Angeles, hopes to one day return to Cal State LA to pursue a master's degree. But for now, she is relishing her accomplishment that was years in the making.

"I never thought I would be back in school, and now that it is actually done, it is kind of bittersweet," she says. "It is the end of a chapter that I really, really enjoyed."

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