The first five graduate students to obtain the Counseling and Educational Psychology Spanish Counseling minor were recognized during a brief ceremony Wednesday at O'Donnell Hall. NMSU's College of Education is one of few mental health programs in the country that offer such a minor, which helps make the healthcare workforce more linguistically competent. (NMSU photo by Adriana Chavez) MAY16

NMSU sees First Graduates in Spanish Counseling Minor Program

Four graduate students at New Mexico State University’s College of Education were the first to graduate with a Spanish counseling minor when they received their degrees May 14. Another graduate student in the minor’s first cohort will receive her degree this summer.

The five students were also recognized during a short ceremony May 11 hosted by the faculty in the college’s Counseling and Educational Psychology department. Professor Eve Adams said the Spanish counseling minor is one of the very few in the country and will help make the healthcare workforce more linguistically competent.

The five students are Jessica Lopez, Abril Padrón, Jennifer Torres, Lizet Lizardo and Maria Mendoza.

Ivelisse Torres Fernandez and Anna Lopez, both assistant professors in the Counseling and Educational Psychology department, helped found the Spanish counseling program in 2012. The program is currently led by Virginia Longoria, a postdoctoral fellow in the Counseling and Educational Psychology Department and graduate of the doctoral Counseling Psychology program. Longoria’s position has been partially funded by a grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration’s Graduate Psychology Education program.

Torres Fernandez said the idea for the minor began years earlier with three doctoral students who saw the need for bilingual counseling training based on the shortage of Spanish-speaking mental health professionals. The minor was approved in 2013, and initially was funded through a grant from the American Psychological Association’s Board of Educational Affairs.

Torres Fernandez said the minor addresses the shortage of bilingual counselors nationwide, and also serves as a recruitment tool for the department.

“This program came about as a grassroots movement that started with students,” Torres Fernandez said. “None of this would have been possible without them. I think that there’s no doubt, because we’re located in a border region, more times than none we will work with clients whose primary language is Spanish. This is not only about developing linguistic competencies but also develop cultural competencies and social justice advocacy skills in order to work with these clients.”

Torres Fernandez said students enrolled in the minor are especially dedicated, considering the minor is not required and adds additional courses to an already heavy course load. Many of the students are also first-generation graduates and have parents who only speak Spanish. Lopez said the program hit close to home, which is why she chose it as her minor.

“I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household with my single mom and little sister, so I know first hand the difficulties that come from being unable to communicate in English,” Lopez said. “I wanted to complete the minor in Spanish counseling because I wanted to bridge the gap for those individuals who live in the U.S. but cannot communicate in the manner that they would like to because of the language barrier. During my internship at Ben Archer Health Center this semester, I have learned that there is a great need for Spanish-speaking mental health professionals in the area. It is surprising because given the area that we live in, one would think that there would be plenty of Spanish-speaking providers but that is simply not the case. The wait-lists are always that much longer for Spanish speakers because of the deficit of Spanish-speaking providers.”

Lizardo said the decision to minor in Spanish counseling was a “natural choice,” since Spanish was her first language. Through her participation in the program, she was able to intern at the Center Against Sexual and Family Violence in El Paso and connect with Spanish-speaking clients at a cultural level while successfully applying counseling principles.

“Growing up, I witnessed how hard it was for my mother to receive any kind of services because she only spoke Spanish,” Lizardo said. “Because of this experience, I want to be a person that others can feel comfortable communicating with. Living in this area where most of the population is Spanish-speaking, I wanted to be a competent counselor that provided a space for clients to comfortably express their struggles in their home language. Even though I experienced this first hand, the program expanded my awareness of the systemic problems that our minority clients have to face.”

Author:  Adriana M. Chavez – NMSU