Posted on April 8, 2019 by Michelle Skidmore

Bethany Gutierrez

Bethany Gutierrez wants to study how policy impacts access to healthy foods for individuals diagnosed with diabetes.

Meet Bethany Elena Marie Gutierrez. She is a student of the UTSA Master of Social Work program and has been accepted into the Graduate Archer Fellowship Program for the Summer of 2019. The Graduate Archer Fellowship Program was established in 2010 by The University of Texas System as a way to bring graduate and medical students interested in policy and politics to our nation's capital to learn about the federal government and public service. Graduate Archer Fellows live, learn and work in the heart of Washington, D.C., during the summer. Selection is based on a competitive process. Graduate fellows intern full-time with an organization of their choosing based on their own professional and academic goals and interests.

Bethany overcame learning challenges and bullying in school that led to issues with her self-esteem, but now she is headed to Washington, D.C. to learn from top level policy leaders and jump start her professional development and career opportunities. Bethany credits her mother, who is battling Stage 4 breast cancer, for motivating her to tap into her strength from within and surpass all obstacles.

Q: What was your initial reaction after learning you were selected for the Graduate Archer Fellowship?

A: I was shocked, overwhelmed, intrigued, and excited. The news boosted my confidence and made me feel worthy to be a part of this opportunity.

Q: What inspired you to apply for the Graduate Archer Fellowship?

A: While in the social work graduate program at UTSA, I became intrigued on how I, as a social worker can impact the world of policy to help underserved populations at a macro level. Many people inspired me to apply to the fellowship: my graduate advisor/mentor Derek Plantenga, who has always been a sounding board throughout my MSW program; Dr. Janet Lantry, who told me that, ‘You can change the world with your thoughts because you have the ability to see the world in a different way,' and some UTSA Archer Graduate alums from 2018 - Raymond Banks, Judi Jones, and Caitlin Caswell. They have all helped me through the process of applying and offered me priceless advice. One commonality I heard when speaking to all of them is that ‘The Archer Fellowship is a once in a lifetime opportunity that you will not regret.’ These words and others concluded that I had no choice but to act in faith and apply.

Q: What were some of your challenges growing up, and how did you overcome them?

A: I never saw myself getting my master's degree. In third grade I discovered my reading and math comprehension level was behind the average for my age. This made me feel left out, different, inadequate, unintelligent, and felt bullied when reading out loud at times. My mother was presented with the option to hold me back and she would not have that. I was fortunate to have a mother who was able to enroll me into Sylvan Learning Center to improve my reading and math scores. My mother was persistent in ensuring I reach the appropriate levels to stay with my cohort I entered school with. I did not go to recess when others did because I was reading in the library. After school I would go straight to Sylvan and then home to finish homework/projects. I portrayed much resistance, but my mother gave me no choice. With the efforts of Sylvan, dedication, persistence, and support from my mother I advanced. I credit my mother a great deal for my educational stamina, success, and networking skills. Currently, she is battling stage 4 breast cancer. I travel to Victoria, TX (my hometown) to help take care of her. I thought about declining my acceptance to Archer program because of this circumstance. I asked my mother what she would want me to do and she said, ‘I worked too hard for you to not take advantage of these sort of opportunities, you cannot help what is happening to me, and I will not hold you back. Challenges are always going to be an obstacle, but it is up to the individual to see the strength within to then succeed and surpass all obstacles.’

Q: What do you hope to gain from this experience in Washington, D.C.?

A: I hope to gain a better understanding of how food policy impacts access to healthy foods for underserved individuals living in food deserts diagnosed with diabetes. Healthy food access should be a human right for all.

Q: How does the Archer Program in Public Policy align with your interests?

A: The Archer Program will allow me to meet with national and world leaders of our time and bring awareness to issues facing our communities. My social work education will bring a different perspective to the table — looking at different sides of the problem with compassion while bringing thoughtful strategies to policy analyses and implementation, aligning social work with policy practice.

Q: What do you do in your spare time? What volunteer work do you do in the community?

A: In my spare time, I enjoy cycling, yoga, painting, volunteering, and spending time with family and friends. One thing I do that combines two of my loves (cycling and volunteering) is the annual MS 150 Ride to the River . This ride takes place in October with a route from San Antonio to New Braunfels where riders from all walks of life come together to raise funds for individuals living with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). My most favorite part is riding with people who have MS, learning their experience, and then witnessing the endless resilience they hold within themselves to ride for miles. It's incredible. I currently volunteer as the Facebook social media director for the MSW student council. I volunteered for the Rape Crisis Center in my past and have also served as an AmeriCorps Volunteer in Service to America (VISTA), working alongside Haven for Hope to combat homelessness in San Antonio. I had an unpaid internship with Morningside Ministries as a social work intern learning about the older population in a skilled nursing facility. I learned of their barriers and their different therapies, models and perspectives; researched dementia care, caregiver support, Medicare and Medicaid policies, and how food quality is related to the residents' quality of life. I volunteered to work on the Participatory Budgeting Project in District 8 (presented by Stephanie Flores, a fellow COPP peer and M.P.A. student) and was appointed Chair for the senior citizen committee. Here we identified gaps for senior citizens in the district. It was energizing to civically engage and get others in the community to have their voices heard.

Q: Where do you see yourself in the next few years?

A: I aspire to work for a city or state researching, analyzing, and implementing policies to help the underserved populations such as: children diagnosed with disorders classified as disruptive, impulsive-control, and conduct disorders (i.e. Oppositional Defiant Disorder or Intermittent Explosive Disorder) that commonly lead children/adolescents into the prison system (school to prison pipeline). I plan to introduce an intervention to increase healthy food access for low income populations living with diabetes in San Antonio. My hope is to use the connections I make in D.C. to find a job here in Texas after I graduate in December 2019.



— Michelle Skidmore