CSUB students and counseling psychology majors Milka Lara and Natalie Rivera recently were awarded the California Educational Stipend.
The California MFT Stipend Program is funded through the Mental Health Services Act and administered by the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development to address the statewide workforce need for mental health practitioners in underserved communities of California.
The stipend will be paid after the completion of their one-year commitment of service in the public mental health field.
Lara, 24, grew up in Bakersfield and attended Bakersfield High School before attending University of California, San Diego (UCSD) for her undergraduate studies.
In high school, she had taken an AP psychology course, and so began her interest in the field. While at UCSD, she started as major in pre-med. As she neared her undergraduate degree and looked into graduate programs, it was through exploration that she discovered the MFT Program was something she would be interested in.
Growing up, she saw that mental health isn’t something that is talked about in the Hispanic community. Throughout her time in San Diego, she did a lot of work with those in underrepresented communities.
“I want to serve communities that have difficulty accessing mental health, mostly with Spanish speaking communities,” said Lara. That’s a need she’s seen working with child guidance and would like to see a Spanish speaking staff that would serve as a resource for those types of communities.
Now in her third and final year of the master’s program at CSUB, Lara feels that she’s grown and improved in her skills, but that doesn’t mean that she’s learned everything there is to know just yet.
“I’m in a profession where I’m never going to stop learning, so I can’t say that I’ve gained all the skills that I need to go out into the real world,” she said. “You never stop learning in this profession, which is my favorite part about it.”
After she graduates, Lara plans to work in the county or contracted area for a year, per the stipend agreement. Once she’s finished with that, she’ll continue in the mental health field as a manager or supervisor. Down the road, she wants to get her Ph.D. and might even start her own private practice. She has some time before she has to decide any of that, though.
“I could not be more pleased that two deserving CSU Bakersfield Counseling Psychology students have been selected to receive the MFT Educational Stipend Award. I have had the pleasure to get to know Milka and Natalie over the past couple years, and I am confident that they will be a valuable asset to the Kern County community as professional counselors,” said Dr. Sarah Appleton, Program Coordinator and Professor for Program in Counseling Psychology. “This stipend will help offset the cost of their education and will encourage them to work for local agencies that provide services to our friends and neighbors who are most in need. As a CSU Bakersfield alum myself, it is a rewarding experience to participate in the cultivation of the next generation of counselors. Assisting these ladies with the stipend application process and learning of their selection was certainly one of the highlights of 2016 for me as an educator.”
Natalie Rivera, 25, grew up in Delano. Rivera currently lives in Delano and commutes every day to Bakersfield to attend the University for classes. Rivera works in the Applied Behavior Analysis (ABS) Field as a program coordinator and works with those who have developmental disabilities, such as Autism or Down’s Syndrome.
In high school, Rivera knew that she loved helping people, and friends were always coming to her for advice, so this profession was a natural progression.
During her senior year, an elective for psychology and sociology was offered, but her counselor looked at her like she was crazy, she said.
Rivera had planned to take calculus, since she was good at math, but in the end changed paths, and discovered that she liked psychology better than sociology.
Once she made it to CSUB for her undergrad, she decided to declare psychology as her major. It wasn’t until she had a class with Dr. Appleton, who told of her journey with marriage and family therapy, that she decided that was the route she’d like to take in the field.
“This kind of job, it’s not easy and you won’t get rich quick. You have to do it mostly because you want to help others, and if they do, then I applaud them,” said Rivera.
After she graduates, Rivera plans to get a job in the mental health field, so she will see what’s available to her once she accepts her diploma, though currently she works with children.
How do the ladies feel about being awarded this stipend?
“It’s an honor,” Lara said. It’s a “really neat feeling knowing that I’m doing something that I love and also being rewarded for it,” she said. Lara added that even though you don’t go into this profession seeking a reward, it was very reinforcing and empowering for her.
Rivera said that she doesn’t have much confidence in herself, so she didn’t think she would qualify. She considers it a “good self-esteem booster” to know that somebody believes in her.