Newest Hogg Foundation Scholar Champions Children's Safety
Published June 3, 2022
By Darlene Muguiro
UTEP College of Health Sciences
Katya Compian, a recent graduate of the Bachelor of Social Work program, traversed a challenging path prior to receiving her degree and becoming the College of Health Science’s newest recipient of the Hogg Foundation for Mental Health scholarship.
In her senior year of high school, Compian left an unstable situation at home and was displaced into a homeless shelter for six months, after which she began a rapid rehousing program. The program taught her about finances and higher education opportunities. She decided to begin her academic career at UTEP in the Bachelor of Psychology program.
The summer before her first semester, Compian found an apartment close to campus and began working at UTEP, but the modest pay level and limited hours often meant that she would have to visit food banks to supplement her monthly $40 food budget.
“The first two years of college were really difficult. I had virtually no financial or emotional support,” she said. “I had friends, but friends can only do so much. The little things, like being alone when I was at home and having to cook for myself, all mattered.”
After watching a documentary about Gabriel Fernandez, an eight-year-old boy who died in 2013 after being severely abused by his mother and her partner, Compian realized that she wanted to do more than what her degree in psychology would allow, and she began to investigate the field of social work. The small cohort sizes and community-engaged research projects of UTEP’s Social Work programs attracted her, and she decided to stay at UTEP to finish her undergraduate education.
“Social workers are not just case workers; they are also lobbyists. They create laws, they can work on the macro level and create policy,” she said. “I thought I could do more with social work, like writing grants and doing research.”
Compian says her most challenging, yet rewarding, experience in the BSW program was working with 550 children at Ramapo for Children, a camp in New York for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.
“I learned how to build rapport with clients, when you need to draw upon your relationship to de-escalate unsafe situations,” she explained. “There were times when I got punched or slapped, but other times that I could identify the children’s triggers and redirect their attention to something else.”
Compian will begin the Advanced Standing Master of Social Work (MSW) program this summer. Her clever strategy of putting a percentage of the financial aid she received as an undergraduate into her savings will allow her to complete her MSW degree “student-loan free,” along with her funding as a Hogg Foundation scholar.
Compian says the prestige of receiving a competitive state-level scholarship still hasn’t hit her, but she acknowledges that if it weren’t for the persistence of her research mentor, Dr. Bruce Friedman, she might not have applied. Friedman suggested that she mention her primary research interest in the application essay, which is protecting children by providing support and interventions for individuals who are attracted to minors. She is specifically looking at whether these individuals experience greater numbers of adverse events in childhood, in comparison to the general population.
Following graduation from the MSW program, Compian says her “three-to-five-year plan” is to get her clinician’s license and work in a corrections department providing therapy for individuals who have been labeled as “pedophiles,” a label she says is not always correct because child sex offenders are not always attracted to minors. She hopes to network within the departments to find strategies to help identify her population of interest and dedicate her career to providing the support they need to prevent their initial offense against a child.
“It’s such a taboo topic, and there isn’t a lot of information out there about the population I want to work with. A lot of people just want to ignore the issue, but if you care about children and preventing them from becoming victims, you need to do this,” she said.
For more information about the Master of Social Work program, please visit: https://www.utep.edu/chs/sw/academic-programs/prospective-students/master-of-social-work.html