Cynthia Alonzo, BSW ’18

Hometown: Dallas, Texas.

Why social work: I have two uncles and two aunts on my mom’s side who live with my grandma because they’re all blind. One of my uncles has Down’s syndrome, which causes him to have trouble speaking. One of those aunts has autism as well. Growing up I saw how few job opportunities there were for those with disabilities who did want to get jobs. I’m thinking especially of my uncle, who is blind. He signed up for a job program. The first job they gave him was picking up trash on the side of the road, but we thought that was insane because he was blind. So he got relocated to wash dishes at a hotel. We were fine with that because he already did that at the house. We reminded the hotel personnel that they needed to take the knives out of the sink before he washed dishes, and I think they forgot one day because he got a big cut on his hand. That highlighted the poor job opportunities available to people with disabilities. That was one of my main reasons for getting into social work.

Favorite experience at UT Austin: My social work with groups class last year. Although I had multiple classes with people in social work, it wasn’t until this class that we became very close and very open with one another. That semester made us lifelong friends. There was one group session where we focused on being comfortable sitting in silence with one another, and that broke down a lot of barriers.

Most challenging time on the Forty Acres: One of the biggest challenges for me was branching out and finding organizations that will help me with my future career and life after college. I think during the first two years at UT students tend to bounce between organizations to find one that’s the right fit. It wasn’t until my junior year that I found such organization, which was the UT Social Work Council. I felt that the organization members would stay in contact with me after college, help check in, find mentors when the time comes to apply for grad school, and more.

Best social work internship moment: My internship is at Down Home Ranch, which is a nonprofit residential area for adults who have intellectual development disabilities. I provide programming classes to 48 adults living there who range from 21 to 67 years in age. We call the adults ranchers instead of clients. For the first two weeks, my main task was just to hang out with the ranchers to get to know them and make them comfortable with my presence. At first, I could feel that they weren’t comfortable with me, and they would push me out of conversations. But I remember this one day, one of the ranchers who doesn’t speak well came up and said my name and hugged me. My heart expanded ten times, and finally feeling accepted by the ranchers was very memorable to me.

Favorite professor? Joan Asseff is incredible. She has the ability to be so empathetic with people, and I hope to get to her level of empathy. She’s very knowledgeable and understands that we’re going through a lot in our last semester, and she’ll try to meet us in the middle instead of insisting that others meet her where she is. She’s a very cool professor. Diane Rhodes also comes to mind. She’s very energetic and has a passion for social work that I’ve never really seen in anyone else. And Stephanie Rivaux taught research methods in a way that was engaging, concrete, and very interesting. She made it understandable for those of us who hadn’t taken statistics since high school.

Plans for the future: My internship placement offered to hire me on, so we are in the process of finalizing that. I’m trying to save up for the next two or three years before I go back into grad school for social work, hopefully here at UT Austin, the University of Chicago, or Columbia.

Words of wisdom for the incoming class: Burn-out is a real, so be sure to take care of yourself. I always had this doubtful feeling of whether I chose the right major for me. People always tell you that it’s hard to find a job as a social worker, or that you won’t get paid as much. There was a semester when I thought I should have done business or engineering. But I decided to take a step back, take care of myself, and focus on what’s important. For me, that was remembering why I became passionate about this in the first place. So my advice is to always remind yourself of why you are passionate about social work, or find a new passion that will rekindle your love for what you are doing.

Posted December 6, 2018.