Meet our Graduate Students - Adriana Cordero - Following a Passion into the Future
Name: Adriana Cordero
Major: Rehabilitation Counseling (MRC)
Are you a first-generation college student? If so, please share with us what motivated you to pursue a college degree.
As a Hispanic first-generation college student, I did not have easy access to resources that would help me understand the college process. In high school, I struggled with my confidence when I was rejected enlistment into the U.S. Marine Corps, due to a diagnosed disability. Soon after the rejection, I realized that I wanted to find a way to serve those who serve us. The counselors and College Readiness Center at Coronado High School encouraged us to apply to numerous schools. A recruiter from Texas A&M University-Kingsville (TAMUK) reached out to my mom with a personal phone call and eased her nerves about the college selection process by answering her questions. Out of the schools that I applied to, I was fortunate enough to receive multiple scholarships from TAMUK, which helped lift the financial burden of a college degree.
Why did you decide to continue your education past the undergraduate level?
A benefit from attending TAMUK was the small class size and the early introduction into professors’ research labs. By my second semester, I was involved with both research and student employment. I participated in the Minority-focused Engagement through Research and Innovative Teaching (MERIT) Program, Ronald E. McNair Scholars Program, and had the opportunity to present at local, regional, and national conferences. The McNair Scholars Program helped me better understand ways to excel in my undergraduate career. It also fueled my strong passion to continue my education past the undergraduate level, as well as to further my knowledge and continue researching interventions within the military population.
What first attracted you to the Master of Rehabilitation Counseling Program?
When I was presenting at a national conference in Salt Lake City, Utah, I was roaming around the exhibit/vendor area. As a senior about to graduate with a chemistry degree, I knew that I wanted to pursue a graduate degree. At that point in time, the only thing I knew was that I wanted to move out of chemistry and pursue a field where I could have a more direct impact on veterans and soldiers, and better understand psychological interventions within that population. I came across many Rehabilitation Counseling program exhibits, and when I learned about the career outlook and the populations that could benefit from this work, I knew this was something I wanted to pursue.
When I returned to Kingsville, I began to look into Rehabilitation Counseling programs near El Paso and was beyond excited to see that we had a program here at UTEP. I did not hesitate in applying, since I wanted to give back to my home community and Fort Bliss. I strongly believed that my degree would allow me to contribute directly to the effort of assisting approximately 65 million people in this country with disabilities.
What is your most memorable experience as an MRC student?
As an MRC student, I have been able to participate in research labs, and serve in student organizations in both officer positions and as a member. My most memorable experience is applying for the Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) position for the College of Health Sciences’ Student Support Center (SSC), and the support I received by fellow research lab members during that process. During my time at the SSC, I was able to advocate for the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, along with all the other great programs that the College has to offer. I gave presentations about UTEP and the College to elementary, middle, high school and EPCC students. The SSC also gave me another life-changing support system that has allowed me to grow professionally. I am so grateful for all the opportunities that I have had as an MRC student and will forever remember the lifelong friendships that I have made. Although these students have gone on to graduate, they have made such a positive impact in my life.
Tell us about your research experiences while in the program.
After being accepted into the MRC program, I immediately got involved with research. Specifically, I was part of Dr. Emre Umucu’s Veterans VVell Being (V3) lab, which focuses on positive psychology and identifying health factors that may improve overall well-being and quality of life for veterans. We interpreted data and helped write abstracts for presentation, and used various databases to collect information for literature reviews in the field. The lab team presented research findings at local and national conferences. I was also fortunate enough to hold a leadership position, helping Dr. Umucu keep the lab running smoothly.
What are your future academic and/or career goals?
I am looking forward to giving back to my home community of El Paso by assisting those veterans that come home to Fort Bliss. My undergraduate career at Texas A&M University-Kingsville opened my eyes to my passion for research, whereas my master’s degree at UTEP defined the focus of what I would like to pursue in my doctoral studies. After earning this degree, I look forward to continuing on to a doctoral program that will allow me to grow as a researcher and clinician, as I aim to improve the overall well-being and the quality of life of veterans with mental illness and chronic disabilities. Eventually, I hope to contribute to the empirical research in the field of psychological interventions for the military culture, while serving those who serve and protect our nation.
How do you feel that your graduate education has prepared your for your future career?
Coming into the MRC program with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry was intimidating at first, but my interests and great professors allowed the transition to be smoother. The faculty and staff have been nothing less than supportive, and because of their support, I have grown as a young professional and become confident in my abilities as a future rehabilitation counselor. The structure of the program and the clinical opportunities I was able to take advantage of have allowed me to be a self-aware individual, and will help me in my future practice. In my internship, I have benefitted highly from working with an interdisciplinary therapy team. I believe that my internship experience has opened my eyes to see what patients go through, and helped me to understand the clinical process better as well as the standpoint of families and other professionals.
What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about pursuing a degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
Do your research and talk to professionals in the field! Looking at the degree plan is a great start to see if the classes are something that interests you, but taking that next step to reach out to learn more will definitely sell you on the program. Current students, alums, and professors can answer any questions regarding the program and the profession that you may need clarified after you complete your research. When I first started my college career I was a chemist, and now I am about to become a rehabilitation counselor. I have learned that it is okay to change my mind. Now, I will be able to pursue a career in something that I am highly passionate about. Attend the open houses and information sessions on the program to gain insight on the program and its requirements.