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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Humans of UWW: Meet Erika Brown

Oct 07, 2021

A medical interpreter and mother of two adult children, fifty-nine-year-old UWW Interdisciplinary Studies student Erika Brown is poised to fulfill her dream of earning her college degree with a concentration in interpreting and translation. Originally from Bolivia, this San Diego resident, Air Force veteran, and First Generation college student will receive her diploma in honor of all the women in her family who came before her and did not have the opportunity to go to school. 

Every adult student has a story. What’s your story?

I came here to the US when I was 13 and I did not speak any English. I started taking courses 34 years ago when I was pregnant with my son, but I never finished, as the story of my relationship to school is very layered and long, and it involves sadistic Catholic nuns who treated me like an idiot. What is important is that over many years I used and enhanced my language skills to the point that I could pass language tests. Then I got accepted into a very, very difficult program for interpreters at San Francisco State University. This program has a 10% graduation rate. I passed and went on to work as a medical interpreter, and became certified. I turned this into a 15-year career, but always wanted to complete my undergraduate degree. I am now on my last semester here and then I am done! I am so happy and thrilled that UWW was there for me and I was able, because of this unique program, to merge all my previous credits and my previous knowledge and turn it all into an interdisciplinary studies degree. I am so proud and I am doing this not just for me, but for my mother, my sisters, and my female ancestors who were not given the opportunity to go to school. I have never taken this for granted, as the moment I could go to school, I did. I am so grateful to all the UWW professors who guided me and supported me!

What's your profession?

I quit my job in November of last year as a medical interpreter. We were in the starting blast of the pandemic when my supervisor of five years sent the most ignorant message saying that "only the doctors could get COVID." I was the interpreter working alongside the doctors.

What are your plans for after graduation, professionally and personally?

As I am now on my last semester, I have to really think about what it is I want to do. I would love to continue school and get my master's degree.

What's a cause you're passionate about?

Going to school is the cause I am most passionate about! I think that there are always jobs to do, but school pushes the walls out further and the horizon comes into a different focus and clarity. School shows us that there is still much more to learn about ourselves and who we want to be. 

That is Ricardo Jaimes Freyre on the cover of my Spanish poetry book called Momentos. Freyre, a very famous poet, was my grandfather’s uncle. Poetry is in my genes! And Sass is in English, born during the pandemic. School and poetry are salve for my heart and mind!

This is me from when I was in the Air Force. 

This is a recent picture of my daughter Veronica and me, both vaccinated, which is a big deal to us and we are so grateful to have. 

Me and my two nieces Maliah and Sienna.

Me (being silly doing yoga) and my daughter Veronica.