Published January 30, 2024
Luiza Perez Ortiz, a first-year student in GSE’s mental health counseling master’s program, is the recipient of a scholarship created to support underrepresented students who are entering or enrolled in mental health degree programs at SUNY or CUNY campuses.
Perez Ortiz and three other UB students receiving the scholarships are among 21 students statewide who will share $2 million to support tuition assistance, paid internships and direct stipends for minority and multilingual students through a partnership with the New York State Office of Mental Health, SUNY and CUNY.
The scholarships aim to expand and diversify the state’s mental health workforce. They will also provide expanded mentorship and guidance for the recipients.
“The funding, support and guidance are amazing,” said Perez Ortiz, who first realized that she was interested in pursuing a career as a mental health counselor while growing up in East Hampton, New York. When facing struggles with her own mental health, she recalls being unable to locate the help she needed.
“There were really no community resources, especially resources in Spanish. I speak English, but my parents speak mostly Spanish,” she said. “My mom had no idea how to connect me to therapists when I needed it.”
Soon thereafter, she left East Hampton to study psychology at SUNY Geneseo with the goal of helping immigrant and refugee communities who may face similar challenges accessing mental health counseling. Upon graduation, she chose to continue her education at UB because of the cohort model and tight-knit community in the mental health counseling program. “It’s really nice to be with people with the same interests … Creating those connections with my peers has been wonderful,” she said.
Her experiences learning alongside GSE’s faculty have also left a meaningful impression. Perez Ortiz describes her experiences in classes with Aaron Reslink, adjunct instructor of counseling, school and educational psychology, as “amazing” and “really helpful”—particularly because Reslink helped connect Perez Ortiz with the New York Mental Health Counseling Association (NYMHCA). “He’s very involved with NYMHCA, and now I’m involved with a friend from the program—we’re student ambassadors. We recently participated in the Out of the Darkness Buffalo Walk for suicide prevention,” she said.
She also cites Wendy M. Guyker, clinical associate professor of counseling, school and educational psychology, as a source of support: “I am interested in her clinic and research focus on mindfulness-based interventions. In her Principles to Ethics class, I had to have my first client—a student client—which helped me build my confidence to start my internship in the fall.”
Guyker shares equally positive feelings about Perez Ortiz. “Luiza is warm, empathic, thoughtful and sensitive, but she is also passionate, hard-working and committed. Together, these qualities make her such a strong and well-deserving recipient of this important scholarship, and I couldn’t be more proud or excited for her,” said Guyker.
The impact of the scholarship will last long beyond Perez Ortiz’s time at UB. She plans to pursue a PhD program in counseling, allowing her to meet her goal of serving refugee and immigrant communities, while also specializing in eating disorders. She hopes to employ mindfulness-based interventions to treat eating disorders and intergenerational trauma in the Latinx community.
She also plans to take a creative approach to her future practice. “I appreciate the healing properties of nature and enjoy spending time outdoors, usually hiking, camping and paddle boarding. I want to incorporate nature, art and physical activity such as hiking and yoga—a holistic approach—into my counseling,” she said.