Meet Our Students – Diana Villegas – Paying it Forward
Major: Master of Rehabilitation Counseling
Are you a first-generation college student? If so, please share with us what motivated you to pursue a college degree.
My dad, being a first-generation college student, always emphasized the importance of getting an education. “Education will take you places” was a mantra he used to help keep me in check.
What attracted you to the UTEP Rehabilitation Counseling Program?
I knew for a fact that my interest was mental illness. I also knew I wanted to continue on to graduate school, but I was unsure of what path to take. I came across various faculty members who helped guide me through the career path of this field. The program’s focus on helping people with disabilities, veteran research, and mental illness are key qualities that were ingrained within my initial ambitions in counseling. Moreover, the program’s active involvement in the community led me to believe that this program was willing to serve and advocate for those who need to be served.
How did you first become involved in research?
My involvement with research stemmed from my interest in working with veterans. Thankfully, Dr. Emre Umucu’s expertise became a source of light in the midst of the difficulty in finding the experience I needed to open doors in the veteran community. Little did I know that I would be involved in many research projects that would help our community gain a better understanding of chronic illness, mental illness, and disability through the lens of positive psychology.
Tell us about two of your most memorable experiences as a research assistant in the Veteran’s Wellbeing Laboratory.
Definitely, a memorable experience has to be our first publication. It was my first publication ever, and I was like, wow! It was challenging, yet a learning experience. I was surrounded by a good team that made this experience possible. Another memorable experience was presenting at the 2019 UTEP Research EXPO and representing the Veteran VVell Being (V3) lab. It was my first time attending a research conference and presenting our lab’s research. Overall, this became super memorable as we received so much support from students and faculty from the Rehab Counseling team during our research presentations.
How have these experiences shaped you as a professional and prepared you for your future career?
These experiences have allowed me to connect with other people, understand the science behind mental illness, and learn skills that are fundamental to the field. Personally, it has taught me reflection of self-efficacy and learning how far one can get with the right guidance and support. Moreover, I learned that dedicating yourself to something always brings learning opportunities.
What are your professional aspirations?
Ever since I can remember, I knew I wanted to work with veterans. The prevalence of mental illness in the military community and its stigma attracted my interest in the population. I hope to one day to serve veterans and help pay it forward. However, I am going into the field open minded and am willing to work with any community. I feel this will allow me to continue to grow and learn. Overall, I believe that the ability to explore different areas may lead to discoveries of skills we didn’t know we had.
What would you tell a prospective student who is thinking about pursuing a degree in Rehabilitation Counseling?
The best feeling about the field is learning to connect with others. This program offers hands-on opportunities and rigorous course work that is necessary to be successful out in the field. In addition, the professors and students are all very supportive during your academic journey.
Secondly, I would tell every student to come with a passion for learning and helping people. Come with an open mind to learn and experience new things related to the field and just be willing to participate in any opportunity presented to you. In the end, the more you get to experience, the more you discover what you want to do.
To learn more about the Rehabilitation Counseling Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/mrc.