Community connections gave priceless support to CSU Bachelor of Social Work grad Valerie Villalobos

Support networks at Colorado State University’s School of Social Work and in the Fort Collins community helped her succeed academically and make an impact locally. “I am a big believer in community connection.”

colorado state university school of social work bsw graduate valerie villalobos
“I can say without hesitation that the only reason I stayed on track with my education is because I was surrounded by compassionate and caring people who believed in me, encouraged me, and practiced a lot of their counseling skills on me,” said Villalobos. “I may not have any family in the state, but I felt great support from the people at CSU and in Fort Collins.”

Before college, Valerie Villalobos packed up her car and drove herself and her dog Lily to Colorado from California “on a spontaneous whim.” She did not know that many challenges lay ahead for her after arriving, in her journey as a student in CSU’s School of Social Work.

“On top of juggling a full-time job through my entire college experience, I have had some tough life situations thrown at me during the past three years,” said Villalobos, a non-traditional-age and first-generation student who put herself through school and is graduating in December with her BSW. “Being an adult student automatically poses extra challenges.”

Then Villalobos experienced a divorce and healthcare issues that required hospitalization for several days during one semester. “I ended up with $50K in medical debt,” Villalobos said.

“I have lost friends to their battle with addiction, watched my little brother spiral in his addiction, and had a friend die by suicide after shooting up a bar,” said Villalobos. “I was attacked by a pack of off-leash dogs that put me and my dog in the emergency room.”

And on top of all that, Covid-19. “I’ve made three job changes in eight months due to COVID,” said Villabobos, who candidly recounts both the challenges she faced and their impacts to her mental health.

“I have experienced great grief and even greater uncertainty while trying to maintain my grades and rapport with my school,” Villalobos said. “I am so blessed that I was surrounded by social workers and a great community during all these hard times.”

Finding support on campus to build her own resilience

At Colorado State University’s School of Social Work, Villalobos found instructors who care about student success and well-being as much as they care about the field of social work itself.

“Having professors and advisors who believe in me and encourage me has been instrumental in my success,” said Villalobos. “There have been times when I’ve been too exhausted to see my own worth and potential but I have been reminded of my value and been encouraged to rest when I need it.”

“They have taught me to see the strengths in everyone, including myself, which has made it easier to figure out solutions to tough situations,” she added.

Villalobos completed her degree in social work at CSU and has been nominated as an outstanding graduate this fall in the School of Social Work. She has also been accepted to the MSW program at the University of Denver.

“Valerie is an above average student due to her commitment to social work values and the profession,” said social work senior instructor Danielle Willis. “She is a leader in the classroom and with her academics. Valerie has also gone above and beyond in her field placement and to serve our community.”

Making a difference as a social work student at CSU and in the local community

Villalobos built networks on campus and in the local community through volunteer work to enrich her experience as a student. “My time at CSU has provided me with opportunities to give back,” she said, “which has kept me motivated and inspired.”

“I worked in mentoring programs and on committees to increase my engagement with the school and the students in the program.” said Villalobos.

She also volunteered off-campus for various agencies in Larimer County. “Volunteering is very near and dear to my heart; it’s something I always make time for. It has allowed me to build networks and gain access to opportunities in my internship that I would have otherwise not been presented with.”

colorado state university school of social work students in a field education internship

Villalobos is completing an internship at Homeward Alliance, working with individuals and families experiencing homelessness, for the field education requirement of her social work degree program. Her field instructor is CSU alumnus Fred Palmer (BSW, ’19).

“Valerie’s role was dynamic to the needs and growth of our program over the last seven months,” Palmer said. “Working with our formerly incarcerated clients, in our Re-Entry program, she is involved in developing pro-social activities, trainings, and groups centered on re-entering the community as well as recovery from substance use disorder.

“In our Hand Up program, Valerie met with clients and worked to remove barriers to employment, meet basic needs, and support clients towards self-sufficiency,” said Palmer.

Villalobos has also made impacts at multiple levels of practice. “I have been able to advocate for policy changes at the local and state levels, especially regarding equitable access to mental health care in the community,” she said.

“Valerie has been an exceptional addition to our team,” said Palmer. “Always eager to lead the way on new initiatives, she has developed parts of our program that we would not have been able to create without her. This has been a huge boost to the experience of our clients, especially the opportunities for them to build community with each other.”

“The faculty at CSU is very passionate about the field and always help remind me of the importance of our work and the need for it in this world,” said Villalobos

Looking forward and moving forward into her social work career

After graduation, which she says will begin with a well-deserved rest, Villalobos will go on building her future as a social worker in graduate school. The journey still includes her dog Lily, “who has inspired me to pursue social work and animal assisted therapy.”

“I plan to focus on mental and behavioral health, get certified in animal assisted therapy, and get my licensure in addiction counseling,” said Villalobos. “I am also hoping to study internationally so that I can continue to work on my skills of cultural competency, advocacy, and inclusion.”

“I am proud of the impact I have been able to have,” said Villalobos. “I will miss the community in the School of Social Work and in Fort Collins. There are some phenomenal people here who have very large hearts, big ideas, loads of passion, and the dedication needed to positively impact the world.”

One of those people is Valerie Villalobos.

colorado state university school of social work bsw grad valerie villalobos