By Raquel Leifer, Features Editor, on behalf of the YU Observer
Each month, the YU Observer aims to highlight a YU faculty member. For the February 2022 edition, the YU Observer is highlighting Dr. Marissa A. Barrera, PhD, MSCS, CCC-SLP.
Raquel Leifer (RL): Hello Dr. Barrera. Please introduce yourself.
Dr. Marissa Barrera (MB): I am currently working as the Assistant Dean of Health Sciences and Program Director for the Graduate Program of speech-language pathology at The Katz School of Science and Health. I am also the interim Program Director for speech-language pathology and audiology at Stern College for Women.
RL: How long have you worked at YU?
MB: I came to Yeshiva University in 2016, and I was one of the founding faculty members that were hired to develop and to ultimately execute the graduate program in speech-language pathology. It was a brand-new program and we had so much support from the provost, president, and Dean Paul Russo of the Katz School to help us launch the SLP program. Just prior to coming to YU, I was finishing my PhD, working at my alma mater, Columbia University. I have worked at many New York higher education institutions, but Yeshiva University was instantly my home.
RL: What do you like about working at YU?:
MB: When women graduate from Stern, they have the opportunity to continue their education within Yeshiva University should they choose to, and this is really important to me. The Katz School of Science and Health offers pathway programs for speech-language pathology, occupational therapy, and physician assistant studies. As the Assistant Dean of Health Sciences at the Katz School, I have to let you know that all three of these rewarding careers are available to Stern women. All of our pathway programs are at your fingertips. With the YU Pathways program, at the conclusion of your junior year, you can submit an application for early assurance, and you may have the opportunity to have your seat already “locked and loaded” before you start your senior year. This is a privilege only for Stern women. We love it when the Stern women continue on to Katz, and we get to see them grow from a freshman to a young woman earning her white coat. It brings a tear to my eye!
RL: What got you passionate about your field?:
MB: I went to high school in Long Island and I had a lot of access to AP classes in my junior year. One of the classes I took was AP Psychology. In that class, we met a family who came to speak with us about their child who was born deaf and received a cochlear implant. This was in 1998 and cochlear implants were not common practice as they are considered now. It was very revolutionary and interesting to me. They talked about this “doctor” they went to every week to help their child begin to piece together communication, language, and hearing. I was curious as to what type of doctor this was. My mother is an infectious disease clinician, so health care was always on my horizon, I just wasn’t sure what route I wanted to take. I learned that the “doctor” they were speaking with was a PhD trained speech-language pathologist and a doctor of audiology. I thought to myself, “Woah! You can be a doctor of something that will enable you to see your patients two to three times a week and really be a part of their daily journey.” That was it. I was in love. I did not take anytime off, I went consecutively through my entire course of studies. I began my undergraduate work in 1999 and I finished my PhD in November 2016.
RL: If you could bring in any guest lecturer, alive or deceased, who would it be, and what would he/she speak about?:
MB: Oliver Sacks. He was one of the greatest neurologists to walk the face of the earth. He brought such a unique perspective to the human side of neurology. He brought the stories of his patients and their loved ones to life. I think health care providers need to always remember that we are working with real humans who are facing challenges. We are there to tell their story and to advocate for them. He embodied that. Oliver Sacks was a great mind.
RL: Do you have any advice for students interested in a career in your field?:
MB: To be a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or audiologist, you have to care more about your patients than you do about yourself. We are a service driven profession. For everyone who comes to see us, we are there to work with them as a team to accomplish their goals. To be a SLP is to be empathic and goal driven.
RL: What makes your field special?
MB: In the 2022 U.S. News Report, speech-language pathology is listed as the tenth best job in the country, across all disciplines. It is also listed as the third best healthcare job, and audiology is listed as the twenty-second best healthcare job. Speech and audiology are in demand jobs. In my opinion, this is an incredible career for modern women. I am a modern woman, I am a woman of science, I am a working woman, and I am also proud to be a wife and a mom. With a career in speech-language pathology, there are so many opportunities. You can work per diem, part time, or full time. It’s a very “ala carte” profession. You can be robust or laid back in how often you want to work. This is such an amazing, natural, and organic benefit to this field. The world is your oyster in speech-language pathology and audiology. I just want every young woman to know, you can be a career woman, a mom, a wife, a best friend, a great daughter, a community member, and still have a lucrative, highly flexible and rewarding career.
RL: What is one thing you want students to know about you?
MB: I am a very proud healthcare provider. That is what I want the women of Stern to know. Whether you are working in a school, in early intervention, a private practice, or in a hospital, speech-language pathologists and audiologists are always wearing the hat of a healthcare provider. That is really an amazing thing! We are allied health professionals, with the rights and privileges to diagnose, evaluate, treat and manage many conditions across the lifespan, from infancy and neonates, to adults and geriatrics, it falls within our scope of practice. This is what drives me everyday.
Myself and my colleagues are friendly and accessible. I will do anything for any of my students across any of the programs I am a part of. Don’t be afraid to reach out! Ask a question! We are here to be your partners. I believe that good higher education is led through modeling success and we want to support your dreams.
I love helping my Stern students along their pathway. From choosing the right graduate school, to choosing what they want to specialize in. It is such an honor and a privilege to have the opportunity to be that catalyst from freshman year, to white coat ceremony with that Masters of Science in hand. I couldn’t ask for a better place to work. I’m a “YU for lifer.” This is my home.