ATLANTA — Jalia Feliciana Garza (B.S.W. ’22), born and raised in metropolitan Denver, worked hard to attend an out-of-state college. Although the first-generation student had participated in several college-ready programs in middle and high school, her state’s universities did not excite her.
“I applied to any and everywhere outside of Colorado,” she said. “When I found the information on Georgia State University, I found they had an incredible social work program, diverse students and faculty and the class sizes were very small.” Additionally, her high school GPA allowed her an in-state tuition waiver. “It was more affordable for me than staying home.”
Garza knew her career would center on a helping profession. She felt social work would be the best fit outside of education.
“I grew up around community,” she said. “Grandma took care of me and my friends after school. We knew what community meant. I want to serve children in low-income areas, and social work gives me the capacity to do that in any way I choose.”
Social justice is also important to Garza, who said her choices of university and program were quickly validated when she attended her first class.
“Social work still needs to make a lot of adjustments to be truly social centered, but it is one of the closest careers I’ve felt called to that values social justice,” she said.
For her field placement, Garza joined the staff of Raising Expectations, an after-school program centered on STEM enrichment and mentorship. Working with low-income high schoolers from west Atlanta, she tracked their grades weekly and made sure they did their assignments on time, not leaving room for anyone to fall behind. She also collected and sent scholarship opportunities to seniors.
“This experience further validated my decision to go into social work,” she said. “I want to provide therapy to children in low-income or under-resourced communities. I want to be a part of a process that makes mental health accessible and affordable for these children.”
Garza is now deciding which of three out-of-state master’s programs she will attend. Her goal is to get her LCSW and provide cognitive behavioral therapy. These next steps for her, she said, were attainable through the community she found in Georgia State’s School of Social Work.
“I, too, come from a low-income background,” Garza said. “I’ve worked one or two jobs each year, plus this year’s internship. My professors talked me through the process of choosing and applying for a master’s program when, as a first-gen student, I couldn’t necessarily get that support from home. They have been wonderful.”