English (Social Work Pre-Grad Intern) Senior April Guajardo

April GuajardoI can not believe how fast this semester has flown by. In all actuality I can not believe how fast four years have flown by. My experiences at The University of Texas have been life altering. There have been many times when I hated this school and regretted attending, but lately there have been many more pleasant times. As I look back, I feel fortunate to have experienced everything that I have gone through.

When I first entered UT, it was fall of 2004; I was a transfer student with about 70 hours and a biology major. My first year here was a nightmare and I wanted to quit. I hated everything about UT and I hated living in Austin. But, I never quit anything before and I decided to keep trying. During the spring of 2005, I decided to change my college and my major. I transferred into the College of Liberal Arts and was now an English major with a Sociology minor. As the semesters passed I fell in love with all my classes. Sociology became my newest interest and fighting for social justice became my passion. I decided to add Sociology as another major, thus adding another year to being an undergraduate student. With everything that I have gone through and with everything that I have learned at UT, I decided that I wanted to help children and adolescents who have suffered abuse. I also decided that I wanted to become a social worker and I wanted to attend the School of Social Work at The University of Texas and earn a Master's degree.

This school was my number one choice for several reasons: 1. My son was enjoying his elementary school and he was doing exceptionally well. 2. I knew several people who had received their BSW or who were graduate students and were enjoying themselves. 3. I was familiar with the campus and felt a tie that I was not ready to cut. 4. The Dean in the SSW is one of the best in the nation and the school itself is ranked highly. I knew some of the steps to apply, but I was not confident in all the preparation.

Early in spring of 2008, I learned about a class that allowed me to shadow a graduate student in the field that I was interested in. I was very excited about this opportunity, but was scared that I would not be allowed to participate, because the semester had started already and my mentor was a first year graduate student. I did what I had to do; I talked to the right people, sent countless e-mails and filled out the appropriate forms. I luckily completed everything on time and was enrolled in the class.

My mentor Lacey and I got to work right away. We felt that since she was not conducting research we would meet weekly and discuss the graduate school application process and discuss what she was doing in her classes. Since it was already January and deadline for admission into the Social Work School was February 1st, my first job was to sign up and take the GRE. We talked about the test, what was to be expected and how it would factor into my entire application packet. My next assignment was to start my application and to begin writing my six page personal statement. As an English major, I assumed that this was going to be easy, but it turned out to be very difficult. When I finally completed my essay, Lacey critiqued it and helped me to see ways that I could improve it. I edited it and thus we repeated the process several times. Lacey was not only my mentor, but she became someone I shared very personal information with and someone I learned to trust with my academic life and my personal life.

This was something that was rare for me and something that is even rarer in my school life. This experience was a learning experience and one that initially was uncomfortable, but it turned out to be really great. I finally had all my materials together and the time had come for me to submit my application. When I submitted my application, I cried. Why I cried I do not know; maybe it was because the process was over, maybe it was because I felt that my application could have been stronger if I just worked harder or spent more time on it. All I could do now was wait and learn as much as I could from Lacey and the class.

Lacey decided to give me a project that would help me take my mind off the waiting process and show me something that she was learning in one of her classes. I was to give up a personal item that was important to me in any way shape or form, for an entire month. Then I was to keep an addictions journal and write about my thoughts and feelings. It took me a week to decide what to give up and I consulted not only Lacey but several other people that I was close to. I thought of several things, but came up with Lemonade Crystal Light, Lacey had given up caffeine. Crystal Light was something that I had to have every single day. This was also the only way that I would get my water intake. I was skeptical and did not know if I could make it a month without having a drink. Keeping this journal was to show me the process an addict goes through when he/she decides to give up their addictions. I actually felt kind of like a bad person because I did not want to give up my lemonade and it was really hard for me. I can not imagine what it must be like for people to have to battle serious life threatening drug and alcohol addictions, or any other addictions that people may suffer from. As I look back at my journal, week two seems to be the hardest for me, "Right now I feel like giving up. Crystal Light was more of a bad idea than I planned. It seems that on the one hand I have picked up drinking regular water, but on the other hand, I have picked up drinking more regular sodas. Obviously, drinking soda is worse than drinking Crystal Light, so I don't know what to do. I feel like having a soda right now and it's taking lots of will power to not have one. It's only been 2 weeks and I don't know if I can make it another 2 weeks." I was fortunate enough to make it through and not drink any Crystal Light. Once my month was up, I went back to it and continue to drink it on a regular basis. Even though this was a tough assignment, I often reflect on it and actually contemplate doing it again on my own.

I explained to Lacey that another one of my assignments was to interview a faculty member. She told me that she thought that her professor who gave her the addictions journal assignment might be someone who would be good for me to speak with. She gave me her information and I set up an appointment to interview Ms. Laura Jones-Swann. Ms. Jones-Swann was extremely nice and answered all my questions. In speaking with her I learned a lot about the social work field and I also learned of a recovery group on campus that helps students with addictions. I found that interview insightful on many levels and found that this was another great assignment. It was around this time that I also found out that I had been accepted into the graduate program in the school of social work at UT.

Lacey discussed with me what she was doing in all her classes and helped me to see what graduate school work was really like. We discussed issues such as the twelve steps, her group projects that dealt with eating disorders, mental health policy and memos that she had to write throughout the semester. She also informed me that if I studied in the summer, I could test out of two classes at orientation, something that she was not aware of when she was transitioning into the program. She also gave me the names of faculty and staff that could answer more of my questions. She also provided other insight as to what I should do to make sure all my paper work and finances are in order before the fall semester begins. It seems like great minds think alike, because the second and third panel really helped me to acquire information that I never would have received if I was not enrolled in the class. I was able to speak with Dr. David Springer after the faculty panel and Dr. Patricia Cody after the graduate student panel and both gave me helpful advice in terms of research, faculty members that do research in the area I want to study and how to try and get a TA or RA position. After following their advice, I looked at the faculty directory and sent e-mails to professors that do the research that I am interested in. One week later, several professors responded and I have met with one professor and interviewed with her for a TA position. Without the two panels and Lacey's help, I would not have known to do this; I would not have had an interview already and I would not have known to fill out scholarship forms both in the financial aid office and through the school of social work.

This program and Lacey have been an asset to my future graduate career. I would have been lost, confused and unprepared without them. I now feel more aware and confident of what is about to happen and I am not afraid to ask questions or go looking for answers. The only thing that I wish was different is when I found out about this course and when I took it. As previously mentioned, I found out about it early this semester. I wish I would have found out about it earlier and taken it in the fall of 2007. I think it could have potentially been more useful to me and helped my application process go a little smoother. I highly recommend this class to every student who plans to go to graduate school and even those who are not quite sure. I wish there was a way to get more people involved in this opportunity and for more students to know that this opportunity exists. All in all, I feel luckily and blessed to have been apart of something that has helped my future academic plans and possibly learn some of the techniques to succeed in school and life.