Selena Lopez ’18, a graduate student in the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, first detected difficulty with her hearing while she was an undergraduate student.

“I noticed if I sat in the back of the classroom, that I was having a hard time hearing,” said Lopez. “Even if I sat in the front, I wished they could repeat it one more time.”

Lopez mentioned her concerns about her hearing to her doctor but was told that her hearing was fine. It wasn’t until she was accepted into the communication sciences and disorders master’s program and had her hearing tested by an audiologist that her hearing loss was confirmed — providing Lopez with both answers and concerns for what it meant for her plans to become a speech-language pathologist.

It is standard protocol for students entering UCF’s master’s program in communication sciences and disorders to pass a clinical screening in speech and hearing to ensure they can communicate effectively with their patients.

Janel Cosby, an audiologist and clinical faculty member who works with the master’s students, performed a diagnostic hearing evaluation on Lopez. She noted a bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and referred her to an otolaryngologist for further evaluation.

“Her hearing loss meant that Selena had trouble hearing high-frequency sounds and speech, like children and female voices,” Cosby says.

At first, the news was troubling to Lopez, but Cosby assured her that not only would hearing aids make a tremendous difference in her hearing, but she would also still be able to pursue her dreams of becoming a speech-language pathologist. Hearing aid technology has made remarkable advances in recent years.

A more concerning issue for Lopez was the cost of the hearing aids. The tiny devices can pack a heavy price tag at thousands of dollars. And the cost is seldom covered by medical insurance.

But thanks to the generosity of donors who created The Hirapara Fund — established to provide support to the UCF Listening Center and UCF Audiology —Lopez can not only see the future more clearly, she can also hear it.

Manish Hirapara ’98 says he was inspired to create the fund because of his own bilateral mid-frequency hearing loss, which doctors told him was the result of a genetic condition. Hirapara says his own hearing loss inhibited him socially when he was a management student at UCF.

“I avoided group settings where I knew I might not hear everything that was said,” Hirapara says.

But after receiving the hearing aids, he could tell an immediate difference in the world around him — voices were clearer, music was richer.

“I was listening to a song, and I realized I had never noticed that it had a horn section,” Hirapara says. “I didn’t want students to have the same experience I did. I wanted to help.”

Lopez was relieved when Cosby told her about the Hirapara fund. Cosby helped Lopez make a selection for hearing aids and once the devices were delivered, she performed the necessary adjustments and helped Lopez learn how to manage the hearing aids.

“Once I put them in and turned them on,” Lopez says, “I don’t know how to describe it, I just started smiling because I could hear things so clearly.”

The hearing aids have made not only a difference in her hearing, but also in other parts of her life, Lopez says.

“I have seen such a difference in my confidence,” Lopez says. “Now that my hearing is better, I can be sure that my patients are getting the right advice. And now, thanks to UCF and The Hirapara Fund I know my patients are getting the best possible care.”