#MyPathToSeniorWalk: Determined to Build a Better World for All Arkansans
For Ismael Salgado, there was never any question that he would attend college. Growing up in Springdale, Arkansas, as the son of Mexican immigrants, “My family taught me the value of education,” he says. “I knew that higher education could open many new doors [during] and after college.”
“I wanted them to be proud that I could finish college and prove to them that their hard work in the United States has paid off.”
Ismael’s choice to attend the University of Arkansas was an easy one: “I decided to come to the U of A because of the proximity to family,” he says. “My family has a lawn care company, and I did not want to go away for college because I knew that they still needed help.”
The U of A was also a good fit for him economically; it was more affordable for him to commute from Springdale while working full time and taking classes, he says.
After graduating high school, he enrolled with a major in biology, with the plan of going on to the pre-dental track. “I knew I wanted to help others,” he explains.
However, Ismael soon realized he was just following that career track for the money, but wasn't passionate about it.
He turned to his “back-up” plan. He says when he changed his major to social work, with a minor in substance use disorders, he found his place. “That is where I excelled academically and loved what I was learning at the U of A.
“Also, all the learning opportunities that the School of Social Work provides for its students to learn about the issues that face our society today helped me keep engaged here.”
The School of Social Work, housed within the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, requires a full year (two semesters) of internships, preferably with two different organizations. Ismael first interned with 7hills Homeless Center in Fayetteville. There, he helped to provide people experiencing homelessness with the resources they need, as well as translating the documents they needed to close the language barriers for Spanish speakers experiencing homelessness.
He says that before that internship, he had no experience with people who were homeless. He credits that experience with helping him learn “from an empathetic level, the systematic challenges they face.”
His next internship was served at Arkansas Immigrant Defense, or AID, a non-profit law firm in Springdale that helps immigrants and refugees gain legal status here in the United States through visas, residencies and citizenship. His work was specifically with child victims of abuse and neglect, as well as helping clients find local resources such as ARKids.
One of the most rewarding parts of that internship, he says, was when he would help immigrant parents get their kids signed up for ARKIDS, the state’s Medicaid program. “I love hearing stories from parents when they get that news that their kid can access care, go to the dentist, etc.”
Ismael says he recommends the U of A’s School of Social Work for a lot of reasons. “One thing that I loved about my cohort at the School of Social Work is that I got to meet other non-traditional students who were pursuing their social work degree. It helped me feel that I had a community here at the U of A,” he says.
“I also love the faculty at the School of Social Work, because they want you to succeed in becoming a social worker.”
Now a senior, he is set to graduate in May 2023. He says his next steps are to pursue a Master’s in Social Work and get licensed in Arkansas so that he can continue serving his community here in Northwest Arkansas.
“Even though I did not have the traditional experience at the university, I truly appreciate my time here ... as it showed me the value of hard work and dedication to finishing your degree.”
His advice to other non-traditional students? “It is proof for others that with patience and hard work, you can get that degree while working a job. You just have to remember that all those sleepless nights will pay off at the end. I know it is hard, but it is possible.”
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