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PAU Graduate Rosalva Mejia Serves Latinx Community with Holistic Health Care (News, Alumni Spotlight)

Rosalva Mejia

  In June of 2022, Rosalva (Rosie) Mejia graduated from Palo Alto University (PAU) with an MS in Psychology degree. To help her reach this achievement, Mejia was one of five students to receive a Latinx Merit Scholarship, awarded by the Latinx Task Force at PAU.  Her career goal is to become a licensed therapist serving individuals in the Latinx and other underrepresented communities who are experiencing a medical condition. As a therapist working in the medical field, Mejia plans to implement resilience-based interventions with a holistic approach, offering supplementary services such as yoga, mindfulness meditation, and education in balanced nutrition.    “I’m very grateful for the Latinx Merit Scholarship because it helped me pay for my tuition,” says Mejia, who works three part-time jobs along with being a part-time student. “Since I’m paying for my tuition by myself, I’m always saving up for the next quarter, and then after I pay the tuition, I have to save up again. With this scholarship, I was able to work a few less hours, and that was really helpful.”   Mejia has this level of determination because, since the age of 7 years old, she always knew she wanted to become a therapist. When her second-grade teacher asked her what she wanted to be when she grew up, Mejia said, “My dad wants me to become a doctor, but I want to do something in psychology.” The teacher smiled, impressed by young Mejia’s knowledge of psychology, then replied, “Well, there is a doctor of psychology—they get their PhD.” Then Mejia quickly declared, “OK then, I’m going to get my PhD in psychology.” Although she didn’t know what a PhD was at that time, Mejia knew that she would earn this degree at some point in her life to both make her dad proud (that she was, indeed, a doctor), but also to study the topic that she was interested in.    But the path to a PhD has been a challenging road. Mejia grew up in South Central Los Angeles and had many caretakers since both of her parents worked full time. Every few months, her caretaker would have to leave due to an illness in the family, financial stress, or a mental health issue. As a child, Mejia was perceptive and had compassion for her caregivers. She realized that they didn’t have access to mental health resources to help them manage the difficulties in their lives. Even in childhood, Mejia wanted to help others.   “Every day growing up, I heard my mother say, ‘I feel like I’m constantly running, I never have enough time and I’m always tired.’ And I just wanted to help relieve her stress,” says Mejia. “Now I know that there are skills that I can teach to create more space in people’s lives, to manage their stress, and feel more resilient and confident rather than just trying to survive each day.”   As an undergraduate at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), she studied Linguistics and Psychology and minored in Cognitive Science and Spanish. Mejia has 80+ cousins and she was the third person in her extended family to attend college, and the first to earn a graduate degree. She became interested in psychological resilience and mental health while working as an Administrative Project Assistant at the UCLA Resilience in Your Student Experience (RISE) Task Force, a wellness center for students and staff. There, Mejia assisted in facilitating yoga and meditation sessions for students and other members of the UCLA community.   It was during her time at UCLA that her father was diagnosed with stage four cancer with a prognosis of three months to live. “This is when I dove deep into learning about holistic approaches to health, the mind-body connection, and health psychology,” says Mejia.  “I knew I wouldn’t be able to save my dad’s life, but by teaching him yoga and meditation, I could possibly elongate it and improve the quality of his life.”    Mejia earned her bachelor’s degree from UCLA in only three years, then began the PAU MS in Psychology program in the fall of 2020. Along with being a part-time master’s student and working a part-time job, Mejia was her father’s caregiver for over a year. Although his prognosis was to live for only three months, he ended up living for more than two years. This profound experience motivated Mejia to make healthcare psychology her career focus.     In the fall of 2022, Mejia will attend Loma Linda University for their PhD in Clinical Psychology program because they offer a primary care emphasis, which is in line with her career goal of working as a therapist in the medical field. Loma Linda also awarded Mejia a scholarship to cover her tuition for the first three years of study.   Although Mejia is excited to begin her PhD studies, she is sad to leave PAU. “I’ve really loved my experience at PAU. What I appreciate the most is the support I’ve felt from the faculty, especially from Dr. [Eduardo] Bunge, who was my MS program director and Dr. [Alinne] Barrera, who was my lab advisor while I volunteered as a research assistant in her lab,” says Mejia. “Even though I was taking the program remotely from Los Angeles, I’ve made close friendships and I was part of the PAU community, and that’s something I will really miss.”    Mejia is also appreciative that the MS program from PAU has prepared her to succeed at Loma Linda. After she earns her PhD, Mejia plans to collaborate with physicians and open a wellness center in Los Angeles to offer holistic healing modalities. She envisions offering affordable yoga and meditation classes, among other wellness programs, in Spanish so that individuals in the Latinx community have access to these teachings.    “In about 10 years, I plan to open a wellness center and offer a variety of holistic health classes for anyone who needs them in such a way that they feel welcome and at home,” says Mejia. “And, most importantly, my future goal is to become the doctor that my dad always wanted me to be.”