Meet Our Students – Genesis Arreola-Castaneda – “Occupational Therapy is a Special Profession”
Major: Master of Occupational Therapy
Are you a first-generation college student? If so, please share with us why you were inspired to go to college and why you picked UTEP.
I am a first-generation college student. Early in my life, my parents instilled in me the importance of an education; the power of learning. My parents would always tell me, “The only thing we have to offer you is your education.” That’s where my passion for learning was born. My mother has worked for facilities services at UTEP since I was 5 years old. I still remember being that young and wandering around the campus, waiting for the day I could become a student. Completing my undergraduate degree at UTEP was one of the best decisions I have made. It granted me so many valuable opportunities, such as interning with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it allowed me to graduate completely debt free!
What sparked your interest in the MOT Program?
UTEP is home, and I was fortunate enough that it offered the degree I was interested in. Main aspects that sparked my interest in the MOT program at UTEP were the smaller cohort sizes, program cost, scholarship opportunities, and the mission/vision of creating culturally competent healthcare professionals.
The MOT Program has a very competitive admissions process. What do you feel helped set you apart as a candidate?
Personally, some of the things I believe helped set me apart from other candidates were my campus/community involvement, letters of recommendation, and observation hours. I remained active in various organizations throughout my undergraduate career and participated in various internships that provided me with different skills that have helped me excel in graduate school. Additionally, I created long-lasting relationships with professors, advisors, and mentors who were able to speak about my academic and professional potential. Finally, when completing observation hours, I made sure to get experience in different settings, from a school system to skilled nursing facilities to pediatric clinics, and even work hardening programs.
What has been your greatest challenge academically so far, and what did you do to overcome it?
The greatest academic challenge I’ve faced has been learning how to achieve occupational balance. It’s easy to get distracted by wanting perfect grades and then, slowly but surely, your course load will consume you. However, it is important to realize that your grades don’t define who you will become as an occupational therapy practitioner. You should focus on learning the skills and understanding the context behind the lessons so that you are able to one day put them into practice in a clinical setting. Understand that if you don’t make time for self-care, for family, or to simply do the things you like, it’s easier to get burned out and stressed out with school. Something that took me a while to learn, but really helped me once I got the hang of it, was scheduling my “me time” into my weeks. Even when there was a huge test coming up, I learned to prioritize time for me to disconnect from schoolwork. When I learned to incorporate this into my life, the course load didn’t weigh so heavily on me.
What has been the most interesting experience you have had in the MOT Program?
One of my most interesting and favorite experiences of the MOT Program has been completing my Fieldwork I rotation at Fundación Integra in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua. It was so enriching to be able to go across the border to learn occupational therapy in a different country, especially in a non-profit organization such as Fundación Integra, which does so much for the underprivileged in the Juarez community.
Please share what you have learned in your clinical internship that you feel has prepared you for your future career.
Something I have learned in my fieldwork placements that I think I will carry for the rest of my life as I become a practicing OT is the importance of understanding that, as an OT, you will never stop learning. Whether you are brand new to the field or have been practicing for 20 years, there will always be an opportunity to learn something new and better yourself as an occupational therapist. Along with this, I have learned the value of creating strong relationships with the people around you, whether that is your fellow PTs or SLPs, front desk staff, or school administration. At the end of the day, no matter the setting, you are always working in teams to reach the best plan of care for your patients.
What advice would you give to a student thinking about studying occupational therapy?
DO IT. Occupational therapy is such a unique, creative, fun and special profession, so do it and never lose sight of WHY you are doing it. It will not be an easy journey; the road will get bumpy along the way and you may have many curve balls thrown at you, so always keep in mind why you started and let that push you forward through whatever may come your way!
To learn more about the Occupational Therapy Program, please visit: www.utep.edu/chs/ot/
Photo courtesy of Genesis Arreola-Castaneda