Graduating student Jessica Rivera plans to make positive change through social work

Jessica Rivera

Jessica Rivera never doubted what she would do after graduating from Mount St. Mary Academy in Little Rock.

“I think it was just decided for me,” said Rivera, 24, of Little Rock.

Her parents, immigrants from Mexico who didn’t have high school diplomas, had a clear expectation: Rivera would be the first female member of the family to attend college.

Six years later, Rivera is about to earn her Master of Social Work degree, having finished her undergraduate work in four years and her graduate degree in two.

After enrolling at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in 2011, Rivera chose her career path as a sophomore.

She had an interest in social work, but at first, she was hesitant: There were a lot of higher-paying options.

When she spoke with a professor about the salary for social workers, he told her something along the lines of: “When people ask me how much I make, I tell them I make a change.”

That had an instant impact.

“I’m like, ‘OK, I’m sold,’” Rivera recalled thinking.

Now she’s ready to make her own change in the central Arkansas community.

Rivera plans to work as a therapist helping people with issues such as adjustment and anxiety disorders. She particularly enjoys counseling adolescents.

During her time at UA Little Rock, Rivera had a couple of internships, including most recently, working as an intern and translator at Behavioral Health Services of Arkansas.

Upon graduation, she hopes to fill a need for Spanish-speaking therapists.

“Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of bilingual professionals in the field,” Rivera said.

Looking back at her time at UA Little Rock, Rivera is glad she chose the social work path, which exposed her to plenty of people from all walks of life and involved the study of varied subjects, including psychology and human behavior.

“I absolutely loved it,” she said.

As with many graduating students, she has mixed feelings about May 13 and the end of her time as a student.

“It’s weird. It’s like I’m losing an identity here,” Rivera said. “But I’m gaining a lot.”

She knows her loved ones will want to celebrate, just as they threw a party when she became the first female member of her family to earn a bachelor’s degree.

For the family, there was never a question that Rivera would reach this goal. As Rivera said, she didn’t really have a choice.

“I think my parents just value education.”

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