Teaching and practicing cultural competence
- October 24, 2023
- Karen Godinez, ’16 psychology and sociology, used confidence, skills acquired as an Anteater to become a practicing psychologist and adjunct professor
As the youngest daughter in an immigrant family, Karen Godinez grew up and attended public schools in nearby Santa Ana, but she never thought about UCI until her junior year in high school. Even though the distance from where Godinez grew up and attended college was less than 15 miles, it felt like a different world coming to Irvine, where there were noticeable differences in wealth and resources apparent to her even from the UCI parking lots.
“I didn't know that much about UCI growing up in Santa Ana,” says Godinez. “I didn't really think about college mainly because I did not know any community members that had gone to college. When it came to professionals, I only thought about teachers or social workers. I knew that people like this had gone beyond high school, but there weren't really more affluent mentors that I was around.”
“Going to UCI didn't really cross my mind, but despite not having mentors when I was younger, one thing that my community gifted me with was a strong work ethic that emphasizes the wellbeing of family and community."
When Godinez was in her junior year in high school and preparing for college applications, her AVID program leaders connected her with UCI’s EOP program for assistance on the personal statement portion of UCI’s application. At that time, she was looking at four-year institutions near home, including CSUF, CSULB, and Chapman University. In addition to feedback on her personal statement, the outreach program guided Godinez and her classmates through the application process. She was accepted and started UCI as a commuter student from Santa Ana the fall after graduating high school.
Godinez experienced some challenges while attending UCI, but she was always looking for programs and resources to help her succeed.
“Initially, I felt like an outsider when I started UCI. I experienced culture shock even though I wasn't attending college far from where I grew up,” she says. “I come from a Mexican immigrant household, and being in Irvine made me notice the economic disparities within such a short distance.”
For awhile, she struggled with statistics, but in searching for assistance, Godinez became aware of various resources on campus - like the Social Science Academic Resource Center (SSARC) - to get help and where to study on campus, which was important for her because when she returned home to Santa Ana from class, she transitioned into her household role, which left little time for studying.
Through mentorship and getting involved with Jumpstart, Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP), and the Latinx Student Psychological Association (LSPA), Godinez hit her stride and started to build relationships that pushed her toward graduate school.
UCI Jumpstart was an educational outreach program founded by Virginia Mann that sought to increase school readiness for young children in socioeconomically challenged areas like Santa Ana. Mann and an undergraduate team helped young children develop better English language and reading and writing skills.
“It was inspiring working with Dr. Mann and seeing her care so much about the community. I met some of my closest friends through Jumpstart in my junior year,” Godinez says.
Jeanett Castellanos, social sciences associate dean of undergraduate studies and faculty advisor to LSPA, was another mentor for Godinez and advisor for her undergraduate research.
“I attribute a lot of my success to Dr. C’s support and selflessness as a leader. She has a master's in counseling psychology and a doctorate in higher education, and she taught me about what it means to be a therapist,” Godinez says.
Following Castellanos’s academic example, after completing her bachelor’s in psychology and sociology, Godinez enrolled in the master’s of counseling psychology program at the University of Madison-Wisconsin. Buoyed by her positive UCI experience of seeking out academic support, she adjusted well to her master’s program. From UW Madison, she headed to New Mexico State University, where she completed her Ph.D. in counseling psychology in 2018. Godinez credits her experiences at UCI with giving her confidence as a scholar because she learned how to network, how to sell her skills, and how to give academic presentations while she was an undergraduate student.
Castellanos has enjoyed watching her mentee grow from an undergraduate commuter student to a doctorate degree holding scholar-activist and counselor who takes time out of her busy schedule to come back to her alma mater to share her story.
“Karen Godinez Gonzalez has demonstrated academic excellence throughout her educational trajectory. It has been an absolute pleasure watching her thrive in challenging systems and spaces. Her goal was to be a mental health advocate for BIPOC communities,” says Castellanos. “She envisioned a dream of serving the underserved and providing culturally and linguistically responsive services. And today, Karen has her doctoral degree and serves the Latinx community with strong bilingual skills.”
This fall Godinez is teaching four classes in the master’s department of counseling at CSUF and has another teaching assignment at Pepperdine University. She also sees clients and continues to build a private counseling practice. Godinez envisions herself training aspiring Latinx bilingual counselors like herself, knowing that culturally competent counseling is important in the community.
"I love teaching because it's a way to reach out indirectly to community members, especially since a lot of counseling is not culturally responsive. I feel that I can challenge a lot of teachings and thoughts about what it means to be a professional," Godinez said.
As she continues to grow as a professional, Godinez plans to get licensed as a psychologist by the state, maintain her academic positions as a lecturer, and continue to build a practice.
“Along with being an invested practitioner, Karen continues to write and expand her scholarship,” says Castellanos. “In a time where the country's mental health continues to decline and there are growing needs in BIPOC communities, Karen's work is critical and creating a significant impact.”
-Adriana Maestas for UCI Social Sciences
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