Valeria Aliendres always wanted a career helping people. After she considered education, medicine and the law, she landed on psychology during her freshman year in college. From there, she immediately began adding the building blocks that would help her achieve her goal.
She graduated from Northern Kentucky University (NKU) with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in May 2017 and enrolled in NKU's Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in January 2019.
Her first job as a college graduate was with Every Child Succeeds, a program for expectant mothers. "I was doing home visitations and educating moms on their pregnancy and developmental stages for their kids as they got older. I connected them to resources in the community, like mental health or housing. My main job was to educate them about the development of their child."
Since September 2018, Aliendres has worked as a therapeutic service provider for the Cincinnati-based nonprofit Beech Acres Parenting Center. She credits her bachelor's degree in psychology with preparing her for her current role at a Cincinnati public school where she works on behavioral interventions for Pre-K through eighth grade kids.
"I felt prepared and confident going into this work, and it's been great so far. It's the closest thing I can do to counseling and therapy without a license."
Mind Over Matter
Aliendres' job isn't easy. Her caseload includes 30 public-school kids with varied mental health needs.
"I spend most of my days working with them and with parents, identifying how we can help them in the school. Of the eight hours I am at work, I spend about five or six of those with the kids."
Aliendres' passion for working with children made PSY 321: Lifespan Development her favorite course in the bachelor's in psychology program.
"To get a general overview of infancy, childhood, and all throughout the lifespan was interesting," she said. "I found I was comparing myself to whatever I was learning, like 'Did I do that?' or 'Why did I do that?' or 'What can I expect as I get older?'"
She finds the work rewarding even when the kids' behavioral problems pose challenges.
"Sometimes the older kids are able to verbalize their emotions and their frustrations and we can help them a little easier. It's tough with the little ones who don't really understand what's going on, what they're feeling or why they're doing things. However, the little ones tend to be the cutest, too."
Aliendres' advice to anyone considering a psychology degree is to gain experience as an undergrad.
"Expose yourself to fields you might be interested in, network with people who have careers that interest you, and pick their brains to figure out where you're truly supposed to be," she said. "Ask yourself why you want to do it. Putting yourself in those situations allows you to confirm your choice instead of just going in blindly and hoping it works out."
To land a job as a psychology major, she suggests researching the variety of options available.
"One of my professors in undergrad said, 'You can do everything with a psychology degree or nothing at all.' I took that to mean it's up to you what you do with it. I think psychology is all around us, and it's a part of our everyday lives in every way possible."
She also suggests picking a minor that enables specialization. "So whether that's PR or marketing, I would recommend getting a little more specific with the minor you choose. I chose human services and addiction as my minor — so very related to counseling since that's the path I wanted to go in," she said.
Aliendres recommends NKU's bachelor's degree in psychology, not only for the learning experience but also for the built-in networking.
As an on-campus student, Aliendres took advantage of an internship opportunity with a nearby healthcare facility. While online students aren't required to do internships, they still have the benefit of the NKU network.
"Some of the people I graduated with went on to work at Cincinnati Children's Hospital, the second-best children's hospital in the country. That's where I did my internship as an undergrad, and I made great connections there. So if I ever feel like I want to apply there, I have the right tools and resources to use those connections. I can get in there if I wanted to."
And if she does choose to apply there, she's got a leg up on the competition; Cincinnati Children's Hospital is one of the largest recruiters and employers of NKU psychology graduates.
"It's such a great hospital, recognized nationally. To have that in our backyard and be able to intern there and then graduate and go on to work there is a huge privilege," she said.
Aliendres dreams of moving to New York where her goal is to find an organization whose values align with her own so she can pursue her passion of helping others.
"I feel fortunate with the education I've gotten at NKU," she said. "My experience was awesome. The professors were all so supportive and made sure to set us on the right path."
Learn more about the NKU online Bachelor of Arts in Psychology program.
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