When Carmelita Sanchez enrolled at New Mexico Highlands University in the fall of 2019, she had no idea she would complete her entire undergraduate education during a pandemic. Despite her unusual college experience, Sanchez said taking online classes helped her accelerate her studies. She graduated this year with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and minor in fine arts, and she plans to blend these disciplines in a future career as an art-based therapist.
Sanchez said studying psychology during COVID-19 and the related mental health crisis provided unique insight into the field.
“It was a good time to start studying psychology because I received a more personal viewpoint on how mental health can suffer in difficult circumstances, compared to the viewpoint I would’ve received pre-COVID,” Sanchez said.
Sanchez grew up in Mora, New Mexico, and said her mom and aunt attended Highlands and that her brother also currently attends Highlands. Although she applied to other schools, she said the small campus and classes, being close to home, and the financial support were some of the reasons she chose NMHU.
“The scholarships that I got to other colleges were not as good as the one I got from Highlands considering the fact that I would be receiving the same type of education,” said Sanchez.
In addition to financial support, Sanchez said she received a lot of support from her psychology and fine arts professors at Highlands.
“I liked being able to have a more intimate connection with the professors and faculty and staff,” Sanchez said. “It’s comforting for me because I come from that kind of community. The professors are very engaging, and they check on you and ask if you need help. The faculty is definitely very good here.”
The Forever Cowboy Student Award honors students who are dedicated to service, and Sanchez has made it a priority to be engaged in the Highlands community. She said she helped start the film club, Cinema Compadres, with a group of friends, and she currently serves as President Pro Tempore for the graduate student senate.
Sanchez was recently hired as a Health and Wellness Coach for HU CARES, and she will also be attending school again full-time in the fall—this time to pursue a master’s degree in counseling.
“Psychology gave me the background I needed, but now I am looking forward to learning the counseling aspect,” Sanchez said. “Then hopefully I can combine art with the therapy I’m learning, because that’s what I want to do in the future.”
New Mexico is home to Sanchez, and it’s where she wants to be as she pursues a profession in art counseling for children ages 0-18.
“I am a person of color and I think that mental health gets overlooked in a lot of cultures,” Sanchez said. “For people who come from a cultural background that doesn’t take mental health seriously, I want to kind of be that support system that I wish that I had growing up.”