CHS to Honor Former MRC Student with Posthumous Degree
This May, the College of Health Sciences will celebrate a bittersweet moment with the family of former Master of Rehabilitation Counseling (MRC) student David “Isaac” Valencia, the awarding of a posthumous degree.
Valencia was in his final semester in the MRC program when he passed away outside of his hometown of El Paso, Texas. Following a review of his degree plan, the MRC program determined that Valencia had earned enough credits to receive the degree and requested the posthumous conferral from the UTEP administration, which was swiftly approved. Valencia’s family will attend UTEP’s May 15th graduation ceremony, where they will receive the degree on his behalf. Valencia’s service dog, Fonda, will be part of the special event.
After earning an associate degree at El Paso Community College, Valencia transferred to UTEP, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in sociology and was later admitted into the MRC Program. MRC program faculty recall Valencia as a persistent, independent, and creative student with a unique sense of humor, who never hesitated to share his experiences about being visually impaired with his peers.
“Although he was born blind, he would say how fortunate he was that his parents were able to send him to school for the visually impaired, where he learned lifelong skills that he was very grateful for,” said Veronica Estala-Gutierrez, MRC program lecturer. “He said numerous times, had it not been for his parents’ straightforwardness, he would have never achieved his bachelor’s degree in pursuit of his master’s.”
MRC program director and clinical assistant professor Dr. Chuling Lo described Valencia’s passion for helping others, the driving force behind his pursuit of a career in rehabilitation: “Isaac mentioned that he wanted to pursue becoming a licensed professional counselor and help people with mental health issues and disabilities to reach the maximum quality of life and well-being,” she said. “I am certain that his clients would easily open up to him and benefit significantly from his passion for people and his resilience.”
Throughout his educational pursuits, Valencia was accompanied by service dogs – Rocky, Izzie, and the last to serve, Fonda. During his final semesters in the MRC program, Valencia was assigned to intern at UTEP’s Center for Accommodations and Support Services (CASS), where he was called upon for his expertise in service animal programming. He worked directly with Corene Seymour, disability services coordinator, on public presentations and student casework. Seymour recalled his eloquence as a public speaker and keen ability to troubleshoot solutions for particularly difficult cases.
“We spoke about service dog initiatives to different groups at UTEP, EPCC, and throughout the community,” she said. “At CASS, he would also work in conducting student intakes and with problem-solving. If I had a really hard [student] case, he would ask me, ‘Have you thought about this?’”
Other CASS colleagues recalled specific incidences where Valencia’s unique sense of humor shone. Fonda was often involved in his shenanigans.
“One day, [Isaac’s] wonderful service animal, Fonda, was so happy to be in the office, she knocked over my trash can and jumped in my lap,” said Rebecca Matter, assistant director of CASS. “We all laughed so hard about that.”
“I still remember how Fonda would come up to me because she would recognize me and just wanted me near,” said Blanca Palacios, CASS’s front desk receptionist. “I am not sure if Isaac got jealous, but I do remember he said, ‘Don’t think you’re special; she does this to everyone she trusts...or maybe you’re feeding her chicken behind my back.’”
Although Isaac may not have had the opportunity to walk across the stage with his fellow Miners to receive his degree, his talents and passion for education and helping others will live on in the memories of all who had the privilege to study and work with him.
Tribute to Isaac Valencia by Rebecca Matter, CASS
Isaac had such a wonderful sense of humor. Isaac always had a funny story to share and was a breath of fresh air every day he came to visit the office. For example, one day, his wonderful service animal, Fonda was so happy to be in the office, she knocked over my trash can and jumped in my lap. We all laughed so hard at that. I will always remember his smiling face, his laughter, and how he brightened the day with his jokes and stories.
Tribute to Isaac Valencia by Blanca Palacios, CASS
Everyone who knew Isaac would end up happy…his positive outlook on life was inspirational. Isaac did not let his eyesight stop him from pursuing his dreams. Every time he would come into CASS with Fonda, there would be joy. His jokes and comments related to random topics would lighten everybody’s mood. I still remember how Fonda would come up to me because she would recognize me and just wanted me near. I am not sure if Isaac got jealous, but I do remember he said, “Don’t think you’re special, she does this to everyone she trusts…or maybe you’re feeding her chicken behind my back.” Which I wasn’t; she only liked me (lol). Isaac, you will always have a special place in our hearts; you will be missed.
Tribute to Isaac Valencia by Corene Seymour, CASS
What I remember most about Isaac, he could joke or be serious as needed. He always made everyone smile. He loved to eat. He was up to new experiences; his eyesight never held him down. He was a wealth of knowledge on multiple subjects because he had to learn it; he couldn’t just look it up. He never met a stranger; they were always friends waiting to be found. He gave as good as he got when interacting with people. He always gave 100 percent. He could tell if you were lying to him by listening to you, and he would call you out if you lied to him.
Tribute to Isaac Valencia by Jan Lockhart, Retired Director, Center for Students with Disabilities, EPCC
I remember when you began your education at Valle Verde. You were always considerate of others by being on time for the notetakers in your classes, the tutors in your tutoring sessions, and your meetings with your counselors. You did well in your classes ultimately getting your associate degree and moving on to UTEP where you would have completed your master’s degree. I was so proud watching you mature, becoming very independent, and working to become a true professional despite your disability. I found your four-legged companion, Rocky, to be a real asset in keeping you independent. I enjoyed having her stop by my office. It was a result of Rocky assisting you that I began keeping treats on hand for all future service dogs visiting the Center for Students with Disabilities. I shall always remember your humor, your joy, and your dedication to getting your education. Rest in peace, my friend.
Tribute to Isaac Valencia by Hector Flores, CASS
Isaac was a very positive individual who always had a smile on his face. Isaac was a Dallas Cowboys fan, and we often had heated discussions about whose team was better. We would always end up laughing and having a good time kidding each other.
Tribute to Isaac Valencia from Martha Soto, CASS
I admire Isaac for being a fighter, so persistent in his pursuit of his education regardless of any setbacks. Isaac was so kind and patient whenever I saw him in the office. Although I am afraid of dogs, Isaac’s service animal, Izzy, was so controlled that I felt safe around her.