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First-generation U of R counseling graduates provide mutual support

After meeting in the University of Redlands School of Education Multiple Subject Teaching Credential program, Omar Aguirre ’06, ’18 and Beatriz Rodriguez ’18 became friends. They supported each other through the credential program, then encouraged each other to continue on to earn a master’s degree in school counseling. Upon finishing their studies this year, they will both be the first in their families to graduate not only from college, but also from graduate school.

Aguirre and Rodriguez have a lot in common. Raised by parents who immigrated from Mexico and constantly emphasized the importance of education, the two were both students in Redlands’ public schools, from kindergarten to 12th grade.

Aguirre’s childhood memories include driving down Colton Avenue through the University of Redlands main campus with his mother. On her way to deliver lunch to her husband, Aguirre’s mother would wish that one of her children would eventually attend the U of R. “Because I grew up seeing this campus, my heart was set on going to school here,” he says. “When I was accepted [after attending Crafton Hills College], my mother felt like I was fulfilling her American dream.”

After Aguirre earned his undergraduate degree and teaching credential, he worked at the Language Assessment Center for the Redlands Unified School District. Interacting with the parents of underserved and non-English speaking students at the Center made him realize that he was already using counseling techniques to advocate for students, and he saw a degree in school counseling as a next step forward.

Rodriguez, who was working as a second-grade dual immersion teacher in San Bernardino, suggested they tackle graduate school together.

As part of the master’s program at the School of Education, Aguirre and Rodriguez were impacted by many different faculty members, including Professor Jeanie Lohr. After taking her group counseling course, the two felt they were prepared for real-world academic counseling environments. Both of them say that the program strengthened their friendship.

Rodriguez notes she has already implemented different counseling techniques in her classroom. “I work with students from diverse backgrounds who are developing bilingualism and biliteracy,” she says. “My goal is to be able to guide and serve students so they can embark on their own educational journeys, which will lead them to achieve their goals.”

As Latinx students, Aguirre and Rodriguez agree their identities have played a large part in their academic experiences. The Latinx community shares a collective pride, says Aguirre, and earning an education adds an extra layer of honor. Rodriguez adds, “At a young age, my parents taught me that with hard work, dedication, and perseverance, I could achieve my goals regardless of challenges or obstacles.”

Upon graduating, Aguirre was able to choose between two job offers. Now a counselor at Clement Middle School in Redlands, he says that he constantly shares his own story with his students. “As a counselor, I’m not just there to change students’ class schedules, but to also provide social and emotional support,” he says. “Counselors have a genuine interest in students’ lives, and I know I can make a difference.”

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