Dr. Elena Mulcahy was born on the South side of Chicago, Illinois on May 24, 1937 as Elena Berezaluce. Her parents were immigrants from Tabasco, Mexico. Although she grew up with her cousins on Chicago’s South side, her family lived in an area where there were few other Mexicans. Growing up bilingual, at an early age Elena not only helped translate for her primarily Spanish-speaking parents, but also for other community members and her fellow students and teachers.
Dr. Mulcahy attended Hyde Park High School and the University of Illinois at Navy Pier, where she received her Bachelor’s degree in 1962. Upon graduation she worked part-time for the State of Illinois within a unit responsible for the allocation of funds for Bilingual Education for Chicago Public Schools. During this time she furthered her education by obtaining an M.S. from Florida State University and an Ed.D from Nova University.
Following that position, Dr. Mulcahy became the Assistant Dean of Adult Education at Truman College. While there, she created the College’s ESL Incentive Program to Institutionalize Aid for adult students transitioning into college credit programs. She also founded the Transitional Bilingual Learning Community to provide students from Spanish GED or bilingual high school programs with increased opportunities to pursue higher education. Mulcahy describes the Ventures in Science Program as “one of the highlights” of her career in education. Targeting Latino high school students who were interested in science and math, the program encouraged mentorship and exposure to outdoor environments.
Dr. Mulcahy was also the lead negotiator for the 1977 Plan for the Implementation of Transitional Bilingual Education with the United States Office of Civil Rights. Additionally, she was honored by Chicago’s Mexican American Business and Professional Women’s Club for her education advocacy and was appointed to Chicago’s Advisory Council on Latino Affairs in 1994. Today she continues to support Latino educational issues and has served a member and chairman of the board of trustees at St. Augustine, Chicago’s only bilingual college.