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Elena Olalde senior picture on the TCU sign

The Harris College of Nursing & Health Sciences congratulates our May 2023 graduates! We proudly celebrate the accomplishments of our students, like Elena Olalde, a TCU Social Work major with Comparative Race and Ethnic Studies (CRES) emphasis and a Spanish minor. She spoke with Harris College about her undergraduate experience and post-graduate endeavors.

Why did you choose your area of study?

I decided to study social work because I wanted to give back to my community and the best way that I knew how was to learn about the different areas in which people need support. I have always wanted to help people, so it was only fitting that I found a major that focuses on serving others. I wanted to be sure it was a major that brought me joy.

What brought you to TCU?

Being a first-generation student, I understood that going to college would be the key to breaking generational omens and advancing my career. I had the wonderful opportunity to receive the Community Scholars Award, which includes a full scholarship to TCU. I chose a school that I knew would push me to improve both academically and personally, while also allowing me to connect with my community.

What have you enjoyed most about being a Horned Frog?

I have enjoyed being able to find like-minded individuals, not just in my field of study, but also through Student Support Services (SSS). I am proud to call myself a Lovely Lambda Lady of Lambda Theta Alpha Latin Sorority, Incorporated. Since I joined in the fall of 2020, I have grown my confidence and my ability to connect with others both in my sorority and in other organizations through the Multicultural Greek Council (MGC). I have been surrounded by support since the very beginning. I also enjoyed all the firework shows and Christmas tree lightings that TCU’s put on!

What are your plans after graduation?

I am currently the program manager at an elementary school in Hurst Euless Bedford Independent School District (HEBISD) through Communities in Schools, a nonprofit organization that serves at-risk youth and surrounds them with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school. I plan to continue to work as a program manager once I graduate. My goal is to come back to school for my master’s in social work and become a licensed clinical social worker.

How did TCU help prepare you for your future career?

TCU offers a variety of social work electives allowing me to explore different aspects of the field. In the fall, I was fortunate enough to take “School Social Work” with adjunct professor Camille Matthews. Through this course, I was able to learn more about the role of being a school social worker and I knew from then on that it was the population I wanted to serve. 

Was there any particular experience that was especially helpful?

The social work department helped me find an internship in my senior year with Communities in Schools. Growing up in an economically disadvantaged area and coming to TCU, I recognized that there are needs not being met in schools and the community. Through my internship, I was able to learn that to meet the needs of the people you are serving you must meet them where they are and allow them to tell you what they need. They are the experts of their lives, and we are there to support and help them meet their goals. I learned that the best way to serve this population of students is by simply changing your wording from, “How can I help you?” to “How can I best support you?” because supporting the student will allow them to feel empowered to take back their lives and achieve their goals.

Were you involved in any research during your time at TCU?

I was able to do two research projects through my “Research Methods in Social Work” course. The first research project I participated in was part of a study on mental health stigmas in the Latinx community here at TCU. The second research project was about secondary traumatic stress among social workers and self-care practices. In participating in the research, I challenged myself to recognize my bias and learn more about secondary traumatic stress and its impact on social workers. I also learned the precautionary steps to take to ensure social workers do not burn out during their career. It was interesting to discover that the National Association of Social Workers added self-care as one of their ethics in 2021.

What makes TCU so special to you?

TCU is special to me because I have been able to find lifelong friends through different organizations that I was a part of. Although it is a big school, I have always felt a sense of community. TCU has amazing faculty members in social work, CRES and the Spanish department, who made me feel like I belonged even when there was no one else in the room who looked like me. 

Tell us about your proudest accomplishment while at TCU.

My proudest accomplishment at TCU is being offered a full-time position at my senior field placement. I was the first of my cohort to secure a job before graduation!

Anything else you’d like to add?

Through the support of my classmates, the faculty and staff at TCU and others who advocated for my needs and the needs of my community, I was able to identify people who listened to me and understood me. I have been able to take up space where there are people who don’t necessarily look like me or understand my lived experience as a first-generation Latina student at a Predominantly White Institution (PWI).