Karen Bermudez, an MSSW student at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, believes that every social work student should take neurobiology. She lists off the various elements of physical health that affect mental health: “brain development, sleep, gut health.”  Today, her dreams of holistic health for underprivileged communities feel closer than ever: She has been awarded the 2021-2022 Minority Fellowship with the Council on Social Work Education.

This award offers a financial prize as well as a position in the 2021-2022 Minority Fellowship Program. Karen will be partnered with a mentor and given opportunities for networking, professional development, and a supportive community in her desired field.

Karen received her BS in psychology from Texas State University before working in a residential center. As her coworkers began to pursue their MSSWs, Karen wondered if a similar path awaited her. She wanted to explore her options and the world around her first before honing in on a career of her own. During this period of exploration, she spent a year working for Teach for America in underserved communities and was captivated by the social work aspects and needs of her position. The Steve Hicks School of Social Work stood out among other programs and quickly became the obvious choice.

“I was blown away,” says Karen, remembering her first informational session with UT Austin. When she talks about her experience in the program, she underscores how much the school invests in its students.

Karen draws from her own experiences when determining the direction of her career. She is the daughter of immigrants, so immigration is an issue that is near to her heart. Karen would like to serve at the intersection of older adults, veterans, and Black indigenous people of color (BIPOC). She currently works for the Division of Community Engagement and Health Equity alongside Dr. Carmen Valdez.

Karen’s own experience in the medical world, along with her own health complications have sparked her passion for medical social work.  Being able to make change and do research, to have one foot in the medical community and one foot in academia, is very important to her.

This fellowship award will decrease Karen’s financial burden after graduation and will preserve her mental health as she finishes her degree. She emphasizes how she will be able to educate herself in her spare time instead of just trying to make ends meet. Along with the educational focus of the fellowship, she will be able to participate in professional development, stay up-to-date on current issues in social work, and discuss these issues with the Association of Social Work Boards.

Karen hopes to learn as much from this experience as she can to reach the goals she strives to accomplish. She is excited about meeting like-minded people and building a community. Not only will this fellowship match her with a mentor to guide her in future academic endeavors, Karen will have the opportunity to attend the CSWE conference in 2022, and serve on boards such as the CSWE accreditation committee for master’s programs.

When asked about her future plans, Karen is considering pursuing her PhD or DSW, and is very excited about all of the options her degree, and education, from the Steve Hicks School offer. After graduation, she sees herself doing clinical work, helping underserved populations that are battling medical issues. She dreams of opening a holistic community center, a dynamic place of creativity. Her goal is to serve the whole community, fulfilling their physical, spiritual, and emotional needs through anything from yoga classes, clinical services, and farmer’s markets.