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With a Counseling Career Ahead of Her, Patricia Garcia Aims to Make an Impact at Home
When she enrolled as an undergraduate student at the University of New Mexico, Patricia Garcia envisioned a career in medicine.
“For as long as I could remember,” she recalls, “I had always wanted to be a doctor. And then I started taking psychology classes for fun, and I realized it was something I was passionate about.” After all, she says, her psychology classes tapped into two deep-seated desires: “I could help people, and I could also understand people.”
She went on to pursue a double major in psychology and Spanish, graduating in 2016. This past June, she received her hard-earned master’s degree in Counseling Psychology from the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) and is now poised to make an impact in her community.
With her newly minted degree, Garcia plans to return to New Mexico to work with populations that face the same challenges she once confronted. As a self-described Third Culture kid, she grew up an American citizen in a household headed by two immigrant parents rooted in their home culture. Negotiating the demands of the two cultures required “a fine balance.”
“You don’t fit in here, and you don’t fit in there,” she says. With questions of identity paramount in her youth and college years, she sought a stronger sense of who she is and how she can contribute.
“For a long time I couldn’t figure out how I identify as a Latina,” she says. Today, she knows that, for her, being a Latina means helping others understand their identity and channel their talents into fully realized lives.
Her sense of her own talents and powers was refined at MCE, she says, noting that her classroom experiences were reinforced by opportunities to put textbook learning to work in real-world settings.
“One of the big things that this program does is we immediately get immersed in doing counseling,” she says. Garcia especially enjoyed testing her counseling skills at The Bridge Project, a free after-school and tutoring program formerly run by the University of Denver’s (DU) Graduate School of Social Work.
She leaves DU with a host of honors for her resumé. Chief among them is a prestigious Services for Transition Age Youth Fellowship from the American Psychology Association’s Minority Fellowship Program. It prepares recipients to provide mental health services to youth ages 16 through 25 and their families.
She also served as a community-engaged fellow with DU’s Center for Community Engagement to advance Scholarship and Learning. In that role, she worked on questions related to health equity, meeting with community groups to learn about what needs are and are not being met and why.
“It has definitely been an eye-opener,” she says, noting that through the process she connected with people from diverse backgrounds — among them many migrants — and learned about their specific challenges. In doing so, she came to “acknowledge my own privilege” and understand how people from different backgrounds bring varying perspectives to everyday realities.
“With counseling, I can sit down with a person and really get to know a person’s needs,” she explains. “That’s a prerequisite for delivering lasting help. And I have always wanted to do something to help people.”