Elizabeth De La Garza and Jensen Schindler remain laser-focused on what matters most to them as they prepare to graduate next month from the University of Houston-Victoria. That’s why the women were named outstanding students by the UHV College of Education & Health Professions.

“My goals are just to be the best I can and to help others,” said Schindler, who plans to become a school teacher. “If I can help out someone each day, such as a kid in need or a kid who just needs some positive encouragement, then I will have done my job for that day, and that is rewarding.”

Her selfless drive to serve others is shared by De La Garza, who is studying to become a licensed professional counselor and therapist.

“My career goals are to have my own practice one day and to offer services that help my community,” De La Garza said.

De La Garza, of Beeville, was chosen as the education college’s Outstanding Graduate Student, and Schindler, of Hallettsville, was named the Outstanding Undergraduate Student.

“Elizabeth and Jensen are two students who have proven their commitment to earning degrees and using their efforts to impact others,” said Rachel Martinez, interim dean of the UHV College of Education & Health Professions. “I am proud to see them receive this honor, and I look forward to seeing how they will progress.”

Each semester, faculty from UHV’s four colleges select outstanding graduates to be honored during commencement. UHV will hold two spring graduation ceremonies on May 14 at Faith Family Church, 2002 E. Mockingbird Lane. The 10 a.m. ceremony will be for graduates of the colleges of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences and Natural & Applied Science. The 3 p.m. ceremony will be for graduates of the colleges of Business and Education & Health Professions. A live-streaming broadcast of the ceremonies will be available at uhv.edu/graduation.

De La Garza is set to receive a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling in May. This semester, she has done an internship and worked as a substance abuse counselor at Gulf Coast Rehabilitative Services Inc. in Corpus Christi. After graduating and passing licensure exams, she intends to shift into full-time work there as a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional counselor.

She enjoys helping people draw from the powers within themselves to overcome obstacles. What she finds most rewarding is being able to help people in distress face the difficult life situations they are in and find the inner strength to get through it, she said. She lets them know, “As horrible as it may feel in the moment, this too shall pass.”

“It’s difficult for people, but from my own life story, I know that it’s possible,” said De La Garza, who grew up in the foster care system and is an animal rescuer. “If I didn’t believe it was possible, and if I didn’t believe in hope, there is no way I could do this work at all.”

During her youth, she enjoyed school, which she considered her “escape,” she said. At age 18, she won a scholarship to Coastal Bend College in Beeville, where she completed her associate degree in 2000. She spent the next 16 years in various roles, including a certified nurse assistant, a professional pest control technician and a residential community groundskeeper before going back to school. Upon receiving her Bachelor of Science in psychology from UHV in 2018, she enrolled in graduate school. Her determination and resilience got her through it, as did help from the university, she said.

“The whole department has been supportive, so I should be giving them the award,” she said. “Everybody there had a hand in helping me get to where I am today.”

Schindler will receive a Bachelor of Science in kinesiology with a specialization in early childhood through 12th-grade physical education. She also credits UHV’s faculty members for their supportive role.

“The professors have been great,” she said. “They were really understanding and wanted me to learn. They challenged me. I was able to get a lot out of my classes because of that.”

Getting through school was extra challenging because she worked a full-time job.

“I had to have really good time-management skills to make sure I got everything done and make sure I exceeded what I was supposed to be doing for my job as well,” she said.

For more than two years, she has worked full time as a teacher’s aide and softball and basketball assistant coach in the Hallettsville Independent School District. She started in January 2020 as a teacher’s aide in special education at the high school, and continued in that role last school year.

“I really enjoyed doing that. I worked one-on-one and with small groups of kids that needed extra help on worksheets, assignments, projects and tests. I would help them in any way they needed,” she said.

Then this past school year, Schindler has worked as a teacher’s aide in physical education classes at an elementary school in the district, where she also completed her student teaching.

“It’s been cool how I have actually gotten to implement in the classroom things that I learned in my kinesiology and education classes,” she said.

The children have made it rewarding, too, she said.

“I didn’t expect to enjoy working around young children with all the hugs and all the tying shoes and all that,” she said. “But I have really enjoyed it here. So if I could someday get a job at an elementary school doing PE, then that would be the ultimate dream.”

She has an affinity for math too, so she is also considering becoming a math teacher, she said.

“I think I could do well in both areas,” she said. “Whatever I put my mind to, I’ll be able to do it and work hard for it.”

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