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2nd Year CPR Student, Felicia Gutierrez

We caught up with 2nd year Community and Prevention PhD Student, Felicia Gutierrez to learn what she's been up to!


Happy Monday! We are glad we caught up with Felicia just before the semester ended! Check out her interview below!

Hi Felicia! I am so thrilled you are one of our student’s being spotlighted for the end of the semester! You’ve been up to some really great things and we all can’t wait to learn what.

[TT] Let’s get started with you telling us a little about your background.

[FG] Well, I’m a Cali baby who moved from a diverse city to a small, rural Oregon town during my pre-teen years. It was definitely a culture shock; in all the ways you can think of. The move definitely influenced who I am and how I see the world. I was very lucky to have two supportive parents and my siblings to lean on during this transition but what happened inside my household and on the outside were two very different experiences. My siblings and I experienced a lot of racism and discrimination for the identities that made us, us. And because of this I was determined to move out and attend a four-year institution as fast as possible. My plan was to enter the field of forensics and never look back. But as we all know, life doesn’t turn out the way we always plan. I ended up giving up my scholarships and moving to a small coastal Oregon town to continue my education at a teeny-tiny community college where I was offered athletic scholarships and the opportunity to play college volleyball with my twin sister. It was there that I was first introduced to the field of psychology. I took my first psych class to fill an elective and couldn’t care less about what I was doing, I just wanted a passing grade (I was a turd as a teen). Luckily, a professor, who now 11 years later is a second mother to me, told me to get my head out of my… well you know… and start applying myself. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself and because of that I ended up taking every single psych course the college had to offer AND passing them at the top of my class. I had found a field that didn’t feel like work to me. Instead, it felt invigorating. I was hooked on the textbooks. I stockpiled my own personal readings and did all that I could to become immersed in the field. By the time I graduated (and with the support of my professor) I was on track to attend the University of Oregon to complete my bachelors in the field of psychology.

[TT] You seemed pretty involved in undergrad. Would you mind sharing what led you to select you major and eventually decide to pursue a M.S. in Couples and Family Therapy?

[FG] Ha! You would think I was involved in undergrad by looking at my CV but in reality, I wasn’t. I have always worked through my schooling and even had to take some time away from academics to work two jobs and save up some funds to continue my education. When it came to academics, I really did the bare minimum but made sure I did those things to the absolute best of my ability. Work took precedence over academic extracurriculars. It wasn’t until the last term of my senior year when one of my professors pulled me aside after one random lecture and asked me to join his lab that I was even introduced to the concept of undergraduate lab positions. He told me I should consider graduate school, and to be competitive I had to become engaged in research. At the time I thanked him but ultimately said, “No thank you.” Haha! After a couple weeks I was still thinking about his words and decided that yeah, I think I COULD be successful in a graduate program. So, then it was time to scramble! I started emailing PI’s and ultimately found a large clinical intervention program that was a great fit. One thing led to another, and I was offered a lab manager position the following Fall. I stayed there for four years, learning EEG, ECG, blood-collection measures, how to implement behavioral testing with youth and most importantly, learning a clinical intervention known as Parent-Child Interaction therapy. It was through this experience that I knew I wanted to do clinical research but, in my opinion, to do that successfully I needed to be clinically trained and have my own experiences working with clients. I was fortunate enough to be told that if I truly wanted to receive solid clinical training, I need not look far. The Couples and Family therapy program at the University of Oregon could give me what I was looking for.  This program was a true blessing. I was able to work clinically with primarily BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ clients and it was such a privilege to work collaboratively with each and every one of them. I learned so much from that program, from the professors, my cohort, and my clients. I will truly never forget that experience.

[TT] Okay, so after completing your M.S. you came to UIC for the PhD in Psychology. How did UIC get on your radar? What led you here, specifically to the Community Psychology discipline?

[FG] Well actually, I had no plan on attending UIC or entering the field of community psychology. I actually applied to clinical programs and one developmental psych program. To me, my biggest priority was finding an advisor who did ethical and interesting work and who would support all parts of me. This means not just my identity as a researcher but also as a Chicana, as someone who never considered pursuing a doctoral degree, and someone who was moving away from their home and heading across the country. I ultimately was accepted into the programs I applied for and decided that Dr. Josefina (Josi) Bañales was who I needed as an advisor. So, I chose to attend the University of Pittsburgh. But again, life is wild, and Josi called me up to tell me she was moving to UIC. Amazingly, she asked me to come with her! I actually didn’t know what community psychology was, BUT all of my research interests were already community-based. Truly, you should have seen the application letters to the other programs. They were all about COMMUNITY, COMMUNITY, COMMUNITY. After Josi told me about the program I did A LOT of research on the field of community psychology. I couldn’t believe how well it fit with my clinical training and covered all my research needs and interests. It was a scary decision because even though I already had an immense love for Chicago, I never thought moving here would be a possibility. But eventually I threw caution to the wind and decided to go all in. I accepted a spot within the UIC Community Psychology program and here we are.

[TT] What was your first year like in the program? Are there any specific things you would like to redo?

[FG] My first year in the program was hard. So incredibly hard. I unexpectedly lost my older brother a couple days after starting this program. So, a lot of my time was spent processing, flying to Oregon, and doing my best not to get swept away by my academic work and my personal life. That being said, there is nothing I would redo. I am so proud of myself for managing the program, but more importantly, for accepting help from those around me. Strangers!! Ultimately, I had only known the people around me for a few days before tragedy struck. But my cohort, my lab, and a few amazing professors, truly lifted me up and let me know it was okay to just get by. I was given permission to not be exemplary and to just be. It was through this experience that I knew I made the right choice by coming here.

[TT] And with that, you’re in your second year now. How would you say you’ve grown or developed as a researcher, scholar, and/or student?

[FG] Now that I’m a little more settled and have my feet on the ground I’ve really been able to dive into my research and my new identity as a doctoral student. I’ve learned SO much!! This new me has even come to love statistics! Who would have guessed that?! Certainly not me!

I’ve learned lots of new methods for research, new writing techniques, and new areas for research exploration, but I expected that. That’s why I joined this program, to grow as a researcher and academic. What I wasn’t expecting was to make collaborations across psychological departments so quickly. Some of the closest people to me aren’t in community psychology and I learn so much from them. I think the opportunity to engage in new fields is what has helped me grow the most.

[TT] Now, I want to focus a little on your community roots. You recently developed a new student group called SOURCE (Students of Underrepresented Races, Cultures, and Ethnicities) to support BIPOC identifying people in the department. Would you mind elaborating on what led you to start this and maybe a few goals?

[FG] So, the SOURCE group I started here is not the first of its kind. There are a couple groups on the west coast (west coast, best coast) already. I first experienced a SOURCE group during my master’s program. The group at Oregon was led by an incredible human being who I owe so much to. She created the space to be whatever we needed it to be. As we know, academia was not made for Black, Brown and Indigenous students. In fact, the institution itself was made to keep us out. And although there are people working to create real change within academia, history still affects BIPOC students, and frankly faculty, to this day. SOURCE is a place dedicated for BIPOC students to just exist, and be celebrated, and to be heard. To cry, laugh, vent, listen. Though we may not all hold the same identities and experiences, there is a shared understanding of what it means to be BIPOC in academia. During my master’s program this group was VITAL to my success, and I knew that I needed something like this during my doctoral journey, and if there wasn’t something here already, I would create it. I feel fortunate that so many of us students are already close and showed immense interest in starting a group like this. I had the support of my peers and our faculty representatives (Dr. Josefina Bañales and Dr. Jasmin Searcy-Pate) from the get-go and that takes away a little bit of the scariness that comes with starting something new.

That being said, we’ll be scheduling our meeting dates for Spring semester so keep an eye out for the date notification. We’d love for more students to join our space. AND we have snacks! Who doesn’t love snacks?

[TT] Aside from creating resources to support our students, tell us a little bit about the research you’re doing with CAMBIAR Collective?

[FG] My current research interests within the Cambiar collection are on the intersectional connections between youth mental health, community strengths and support, critical consciousness, and anti-racism action. Ultimately, my goal is to look at critical consciousness development within youth of color and how these processes influence mental health outcomes. Additionally, I have a desire to incorporate how community strengths and supports buffer against the stressors that come with navigating oppressive systems. Right now, I’ve also shifted some of my focus to look at belonging and the impact this has across multiple aspects of life. There’s a lot of interesting things going on inside my head, it’ll just be about applying them at this point!

[TT] What advice would you give to any students who are considering a graduate degree in Psychology?

[FG] If you have the drive to enter the field, do it. So many academics have questioned whether we have a right to be where we are. And the answer is, we do. Find what you’re good at, work at what you’re not. Find people to round you out. Reach out for support, collaborate, find a team. None of us have accomplished the things we have on our own. You can do it and there are people, friends (and strangers), who will be cheering you on along the way!

[TT] And lastly, would you mind sharing a fun fact about yourself or a hobby?

[FG] Oh man, I never know how to answer questions like this. I guess what most people would comment on is my deep love for horror. Movies, books, podcasts. I don’t do true crime. I don’t need to hear more about the real-life horrors that we see every day on the news. I want to read about the paranormal, cryptids, other dimensions, the freaky, and the weird. I come from a horror loving family, so I dunno.. it’s just a comfort thing.

Long-live the weirdos.

Felicia, congratulations on all you have accomplished! We are so excited to see what you will do next! Have a wonderful winter break!