Yesenia Lares-Martínez, BSW ’17, has been selected by her peers as commencement speaker.

Yesenia Lares-Martinez
Yesenia Lares-Martínez. Photo by Lynda Gonzalez

Programs and activities. University Leadership Network, Texas Interdisciplinary Plan (TIP) Scholar, Hispanic Health Professions Organization, Phi Alpha Social Work Honor Society, London Study Abroad Maymester, Communities in Schools of Central Texas BSW intern, Americorps EAO member, UT Austin Nursing School Skills Center, Hospice caregiver, Breakthrough Central Texas volunteer.

Making the right switch. When she first came to the Forty Acres, Yesenia Lares-Martínez was a Human Development and Family Sciences major because she wanted to become a medical doctor. However, a personal circumstance that left her hospitalized helped her realize she didn’t want to go down that path. That, and she wasn’t too fond of her science classes. “It was my second semester when it really clicked that I should probably do social work,” she said. “I was excited when I finally registered for my social work classes instead.”

Defining passions. Lares-Martínez was exposed to social work during her experience living in a placement home. Her personal social worker  was among those who helped her during her hospital stay during her first year of college. “I knew all along that I wanted to help people,” Lares-Martínez said. “I’m really passionate about working with children and youth, especially at-risk youth. I like the idea that I get to do this for a living.”

Outside the classroom. One of Lares-Martínez’ favorite experiences during her time at UT Austin was the 2017  Maymester in London with social work professors Barbara Anderson and Lauren Gulbas. She said it was interesting to draw comparisons between current events abroad and in the United States. For example, British elections mirrored the negative rhetoric between politicians and extensive media coverage that she had observed back home. “Unfortunately, there were also a lot of tragedies taking place at the time, which was also happening in the United States,” Lares-Martínez said. “It was definitely a different learning experience because during the Maymester London was our classroom.”

Powerful peers. Lares-Martínez attributes part of her success in the social work program to her strong peer network. Because the program has small class sizes, she said she bonded with her peers, especially during the course “Working with Groups,” taught by professor Erin Spalding. “I don’t think we would be at a good place to contribute and share ideas and be vulnerable to each other had it not been for this class,” Lares-Martínez said. “My peers were wonderful and listened whenever I was going through a hard time.”

Building skills. For her social work required field placement this last semester, Lares-Martínez is working at Bertha Sadler Means Young Women’s Leadership Academy as a BSW intern through Communities in School of Central Texas. She’s also an Education Award Only member of Americorps, which requires her to receive more training for this internship. This position was one of her top choices because it aligns with her interests, and she says it has helped her build her counseling skills. “I’ve had to learn how to work with an interdisciplinary team because principals, teachers, and counselors all have different skills,” she said. “I’ve also learned crisis management because I’ve been exposed to certain situations in this job, and I’ve completed intakes and assessments in addition to counseling individual students.”

Caregiving in difficult times. Outside of school, Lares-Martínez works in a hospice unit as a caregiver. She first began volunteering at hospice to fulfill her service learning requirement for her degree plan but applied for the caregiver position a few semesters later. “It has been a good experience because I have gotten to witness the kind of care that goes alongside the end of life,” she said. “During my time there, I’ve gotten to be there for families and use my social work skills in an important setting.”

Life after UT Austin. Lares-Martínez has been accepted into the Steve Hicks School of Social Work master’s degree program. However, she’s still deciding between pursuing her graduate degree or entering the workforce.

Words of Wisdom. “Get to know your peers, especially in your program. They’re the ones that understand your passion. They’re the ones that will be there when you need the help and encouragement. Also, believe in your choices and care for others.”

By Lynda Gonzalez. Published December 4, 2017.