Elena Vasquez comes from a family that places a premium on education. That said, she’s a trailblazer.
When she completes the Boise State coursework in 2023, she will be the first in her family to earn a master’s degree.
Vasquez graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills, with a bachelor’s degree in human services and a minor in mental health, and moved to Idaho from Southern California two years ago with her fiancé.
At the time, graduate school wasn’t in the plan, but she found her job prospects limited without additional education.
Her fiancé and family — and supporters in two states — encouraged her to go for it.
“I was very nervous about the process, and I was also doubting myself, especially since I’m first-generation and the first in my family to pursue a master’s degree,” she said.
“It was thanks to my family, my fiancé and my support group and mentors, who encouraged me to apply.”
She is coming to the School of Social Work program with a decade or more of experience across settings that align with the school’s areas of study and focus, having worked with young people and families in school, not-for-profit and clinical settings, and with veterans.
Having conquered her jitters, Vasquez is finding some of the coursework familiar — and the cohort of students she is moving through the program with, a diverse group of new friends.
“I love the cohort I’m with. I love my colleagues,” she said. “We all come from different backgrounds and we’re so supportive of each other.”
The cohort has shared the academic load and stays closely connected through Slack and other means, which has been helpful with COVID-19 throwing wrenches in the works periodically. She has appreciated School of Social Work faculty members who, she said, treat students like colleagues and are ready to lend a hand and a friendly ear.
She has an internship with the state Department of Health and Welfare in Caldwell, and while the placement is with Child Protection Services, the fact that she is bilingual has made her the go-to resource across multiple departments.
“I chose to apply for this internship to benefit my Latino community,” she said. “I wanted to be useful. There’s just a huge need in the state.”
The internship and the network around the School of Social Work are helping Vasquez rebuild the connections she had in California. And her classes — and the master’s program as a whole — are going well.
“Being here is still kind of surreal,” she said. I never believed I would be pursuing a master’s degree …
“This is for my family, for my parents. This is for them.”
She has a few words of advice for would-be students and those who, as in her case, wonder if graduate-level studies are for them.
“Don’t be afraid to apply,” she said. “We are our own worst enemies, sometimes, in our minds … That little voice in my head is there, doubting me. But I am confident in what I do, and I know what I bring to the table.
“I want students to just go for it and don’t hold anything back,” Vasquez said. “Go out of your comfort zone. I promise it’s going to be worth it. Invest in yourself and level up.”