By Peggy Pico
Mary Hernandez, a master’s student in the School of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences, is one of just seven SDSU students chosen for the prestigious California State University (CSU) Sally Casanova Scholars award for the 2021-22 academic year.
The pre-doctoral award program inspires and empowers juniors, seniors, and master’s students from CSU campuses to pursue Ph.D. programs. Hernandez, and each Sally Casanova Scholar, receives $3,000, allowing them to travel to visit Ph.D. programs, attend conferences, join professional organizations and further their own research—along with the opportunity to be mentored by a faculty member.
“It means so much to me! It’s an awesome opportunity to meet and work with multiple researchers in my field, to travel to other CSU campuses, attend conventions and to participate in a summer research project,” said Hernandez.
She credits her passion for neurolinguistics—the study of how the brain processes language—to a chance visit to SDSU’s Henrike Blumenfeld’s Bilingualism & Cognitive Research Lab. Hernandez now studies language and cognitive processes in traumatic brain injuries, aging processes, and neurological advantages in bilingual speakers.
“Bilingual speakers process language differently and faster. This cognitive advantage helps in the aging process, and it’s shown to delay the onset of dementia symptoms by about four years,” she explained.
Upon receiving the award Hernandez was able to attend the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association (ASHA) Convention in Washington D.C. in November 2021. Invigorated to pursue her Ph.D. goals, Hernandez said she wants her graduate work to have a direct and positive impact, especially in bilingual communities.
“I really want to develop new evaluation and treatment methods that focus on improving bilingual and linguistic impairments.” The Sally Casanova Scholarship is named for the CSU administrator who launched the awards program in 1989. Click here to apply for the 2022-23 Sally Casanova Scholarship.