Meet Our Alums - Jacqueline Cordero - "How You Respond to Difficulties Determines Your Journey"
Name: Jacquelin Cordero, LMSW
Current Position: Pre-doctoral Fellow, UT Health Science Center School of Public Health
What sparked your interest in the Master of Social Work program?
I received my Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) with a minor in Community Health at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in 2016. I originally did not see myself going to college, as I struggled to complete my high school diploma. I was eventually drawn to social work because of the profession’s focus on social justice and advocacy. After completing my BSW, I wanted to gain additional knowledge regarding how to integrate and promote behavior and physical health. I decided to pursue the MSW degree to continue to grow as a professional and as a person.
Tell us about the most interesting experience you had as an MSW student.
A large component of the training and professional development of social workers involves the application of what we have learned in the classroom into the community through internship experiences. One of the most interesting and challenging experiences I had was finding a new internship placement my last semester before graduation. Although the transition was not completely perfect nor expected, I was fortunate in a way to start over again. My previous practicum coordinator, Ms. Armendariz, was supportive and we developed a plan. I was accepted by Voices United and am still actively involved with the organization. At the end of my rollercoaster ride, I found a great fit.
Why did you decide to pursue a Graduate Certificate in Public Health?
As I completed my undergraduate degree at NMSU, I was able to explore how social work and public health complemented one another in a way that not only addressed the needs of an individual, but also addressed community-wide health needs. I knew I wanted to continue integrating these two professions, but was unsure how to go about it. I was also unsure if graduate school was for me or if I could even afford it. I applied for and was accepted into the Peace Corps, which previously offered a dual MSW/MPH component that, unfortunately, was phased out as I was phasing in. To continue the momentum of my journey, I applied to the Graduate Certificate of Public Health program at UTEP.
Tell us about your current work as a pre-doctoral fellow at the UT Houston School of Public Health for the Cancer Education and Career Development Program.
I am a first year Doctor of Public Health (DrPH) student in Health Promotion and Health Education at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Public Health in El Paso. I am a newly awarded (Jan. 2020) predoctoral fellow in the Cancer Education and Career Development Program in the School of Public Health, funded through the National Cancer Institute (NCI). Other than living in a world of acronyms, I am working with my mentorship team out of UTHealth in Houston and El Paso, and at UTEP to finalize an independent development plan to increase my research capacity and future contributions to the cancer prevention and control field.
How do you feel your graduate education at UTEP prepared you for your current position?
Throughout the entirety of my undergraduate studies, I worked in the food industry and retail full time to support myself and help my family. It was not until I was completing the Peace Corps application process and began working on my Public Health Certificate that I finally stepped into academia as a graduate teaching assistant. I was able to dedicate much more time to my studies and have more opportunities to interact with professors that would eventually guide and mentor me to where I am now, including Mrs. Cynthia Wittenburg, who connected me to the Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership Training program; Dr. Gabriel Ibarra-Mejia, who provided me guidance and connections to further my research endeavors, while at the same time encouraging me to include more activities I enjoy outside of academia; and Drs. Berger and Schmidt, under whom I served as a GRA in the HRSA Behavioral Health Workforce grant.
Once I graduated with my master’s degree, I applied for and was awarded a paid research training and an internship through the Institute for Health Promotion Research at UT Health San Antonio Éxito! Latino Cancer Research Leadership program. While completing my internship under the mentorship of Dr. Moya in the Department of Social Work, I assisted with recruitment and administrative duties on a federally funded grant with my colleague, Ms. Ramirez. Concurrently, I contributed to an interdisciplinary behavioral research grant submission under the guidance of the Border Biomedical Research Center at UTEP. Under the guidance of Dr. Eva Moya in the Department of Social Work, I work with an amazing interdisciplinary team focused on community-based HPV cancer prevention efforts within the El Paso region.
Without my graduate education at UTEP, I do not believe I would have applied to a doctoral program, and most certainly would not have my current positions as a pre-doctoral fellow and research associate.
What are your future career aspirations?
I consider myself a “professional student,” as I have been in higher education a little under 10 years now. However, when I retire my role as a professional student (i.e., graduate with my DrPH), I would like to continue being engaged in community-based health disparities research.
What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about pursuing a graduate degree in Social Work?
Be your own advocate, read your degree program handbook, be strategic and plan for your goals, find a group that has similar goals and values as yourself, and most importantly, reach out to professors within and outside of your program. I can often be shy, so I know sometimes it is intimidating. However, just remember that everyone involved in your academic studies, from program staff to the president of the university, is here to help you succeed. There’s a vast number of resources available to current students and recent graduates. The more you reach out for guidance, the more possibilities and opportunities will present themselves—and then remember to jump on them! Additionally, it’s okay (typically not uncommon) for your plans not to work out exactly as you’d expect. However, the way you respond to difficulties determines your journey.