The resilience and encouragement of her parents has helped guide first-generation college student Italia Bustamante toward pursuing her Bachelor’s in Social Work at Southern Arkansas University. When she graduates this May, she not only will have graduate school to look forward to but firm career plans and a heart full of gratitude.

Bustamante, a senior from De Queen, Arkansas, originally planned to become a physical therapist while studying at UA Cossatot. Upon transferring to SAU, however, she discovered her passion for social work. “Hands down, it’s the best academic decision I have made,” she said. “The social work professors here are charismatic, compassionate, and truly knowledgeable of their respective fields.”

Dr. Deborah Wilson, chair of Behavioral and Social Sciences, shared that Bustamante has “been phenomenal” in everything from research to volunteer service.

Bustamante graduated from De Queen High School and decided to attend the local community college. “However, I had two great mentors who helped me realize that social work is actually my calling.” Not only was SAU the university closest to De Queen offering a degree in social work, it is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which increases a student’s chances of acceptance into graduate school.

“I studied to go to physical therapy school during my time at UA Cossatot,” Bustamante said. “I was driven by the fact there was a medical profession that would allow me to interact with people on a daily basis.”

However, she felt a desire to do more for her family and others. “I decided to enroll in the Social Work Program and follow this ambition.” She enjoys the demanding structure of the curriculum and the care of her professors at SAU.

“They encourage me the most whether it involves school work or just reminding me to practice self-care,” Bustamante said. “I love knowing that this program is preparing me for real life.”

She credits Dr. Wilson, Dr. Raymond Adams, Jennifer Turner, Whitney Gass, and Dr. Elizabeth Gloyd with providing the friendly atmosphere and positive environment at SAU.

“Ms. Turner and Dr. Adams inspire me in distinct ways,” Bustamante said. “Dr. Adams has been a huge academic guide; Ms. Turner is like my college mom. Dr. Wilson was a game-changer. I was having doubts about leaving my hometown and majoring in a social science field, but she is the one who made me drop anchor here.”

In Wilson’s Research Methods class, Bustamante crafted a paper studying freshman students’ perceptions of how well SAU enforced Title IX policies. “I chose to study freshmen since I was truly curious about the impact a campus environment has on the individual and student retention,” she explained. “Dr. Wilson invited fellow professors to come to Peace Hall and provide an opportunity to present like researchers would at a conference.”

Bustamante also presented at the Arkansas National Association of Social Workers 2019 Conference with her peers and students from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and UA Fayetteville. “This experience made me feel even more grateful for pursuing my degree through SAU.”

She finds time to volunteer through University Housing as an RA. “I’ve been able to host a canned food fund-raiser, a clothes drive, and a drive specifically for domestic violence shelters in Camden, Magnolia and Texarkana.” As part of a local internship, she is collecting items for care bags to be given to children displaced from their homes.

Her plans include becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, addressing mental health and social issues in areas populated by Hispanic/Latino individuals. “I also plan on incorporating an animal-assisted component into my practice – that is, if it’s in the Lord’s plan for me!”

As a first-generation college student and daughter of immigrants, Bustamante said she is absolutely proud of her Hispanic roots. “They are vibrant and rich in culture,” she said. “However, there are gaps in contemporary academe that deserve to be acknowledged in order to provide high-quality services to this population.”

Neither of her parents graduated high school. “Even so, my mother and father disciplined, protected, loved and encouraged me. Their resilience is part of my love for them. When I obtain my license, their sacrifices will remain engraved in my achievements when that license reads ‘Bustamante-Quintana.’”

She intends to fulfill their dream for her to obtain a better standard of living and have access to opportunities that were beyond their reach. “It is my responsibility to speak on behalf of mi gente and help educate them and others by contributing to the developing literature of social work.”

To learn more about the Social Work Program at SAU, please visit https://web.saumag.edu/academics/program/social-work/.

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