Alumna’s passion for social work ignited through tragedy

May 26, 2022
tina valdez

Twenty years after earning her Bachelor of Social Work, Tina Valdez ‘22 began a new journey — one that would conclude with a Master of Social Work and a continuing passion to serve others.

The inspiration to continue her education came from a life-changing tragedy and a desire to bring hope to others.

Building a career

Valdez has led a long career helping others. She previously worked with special education students at a middle school before taking on a new role conducting individual and group therapy sessions at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center.

Working with others has always been a passion for Valdez.

When she earned her bachelor’s degree in social work, her ultimate goal was to serve others through her career.

The idea of going back to school for a master’s degree came and went many times.

“I had thought about it before when my kids were in grade school,” explained Valdez. “And I even looked into the Newman program earlier on. But the timing was still not right.”

Eventually, Valdez realized it was time for her to continue her education. She decided to once again look into the Colorado Springs social work program.

She loves her current job as a behavioral health technician and decided she needed to learn more.

Beyond the desire to learn, her decision also stemmed from a very painful event and personal tragedy — the loss of her son.

Experiencing great loss

February 25, 2017, is a day that Valdez will never forget. That is the day her son, Caleb, took his own life.

The past few years have been filled with grief and healing for Valdez, her husband and her other two children. For Valdez, part of that healing came through the knowledge that she could bring hope to others.

She started to connect with the individuals she worked hard to serve on a new, personal level.

Tina Valdez’s son, Caleb.

“Because of my own trauma of losing our son to suicide, I became acquainted and familiar with a deep pain,” said Valdez. “The patients that I worked with had their stories of trauma, whether in childhood or throughout the course of their lives. I could now relate to that trauma and deep pain. All the stories were different, but the commonality was pain.”

This connection of emotion is what prompted her to check into school again, to learn how she could help others on a deeper level and to finally earn her master’s degree.

Upon doing so, she discovered that the Newman social work program had since adopted a new curriculum — one that is trauma focused. This was the ultimate sign that Newman would be a good fit for her.

Learning to learn again

Twenty years can bring a lot of change. Entering college again but with new and improved technology was an adjustment for Valdez. Yet with determination and family support, she managed the transition with confidence.

With classes happening both through Zoom and in-person, re-learning the educational piece was the most difficult. But she said the best part was going through the experience with students who were in her demographic.

“Learning together with the other students who were also adults, it was a great experience in the sense that we were learning together. And the professors were there for us, supporting us the whole time,” said Valdez. “They weren’t just up there to give lectures. They engaged with us and provided their own personal and professional knowledge. That helped bring the curriculum to life.”

Having older children was also helpful to Valdez. They helped coach her through technology issues and taught her some new tips and tricks to get through her online classes.

Tina Valdez poses with her husband and two children on the day of the Newman University hooding celebration in Colorado Springs.

Beyond that, her children — and her husband — provided much-appreciated emotional support.

“There were many times I told my daughter, who was also in college, ‘Lindsey, this is so hard for me.’ I wasn’t sure and I had doubts. But she would tell me, ‘Soldier, you cannot quit. You cannot give up.’ My family was my cheerleaders.”

Finding inspiration

Valdez said her family inspired her throughout her journey through their continued support. But her main inspiration came from Caleb. Although her son’s suicide put Valdez in a place of deep grief, she found a new desire and passion to bring hope to others.

“Caleb died just months before his high school graduation at a time when he was trying to figure out what he wanted to do for school as he moved on,” explained Valdez. “He was thinking of business. But as his mom, I always saw him going into ministry, working in a church, something that would reach out to people and touch other people’s lives. It’s who he was.”

Tina Valdez wore special earrings embossed with Caleb’s thumbprint on her celebration day.

Valdez wanted to continue her passion by returning to college — and she did so in honor of Caleb, dedicating that educational piece of her journey to him.

“My son inspired me because I was now looking at life through a different lens. People have their story of pain, discomfort and trauma. I just asked myself, ‘How can I be there for them and not judge them? How can I help them?’

“When you live through what we live through, you change as a human being. You have more compassion and sensitivity for others who are hurting.”

Discovering hope

Valdez said she is a very different individual but in a positive way. Her ultimate goal is to bring hope to others.

With an empathetic and listening ear, she wants to provide a service others need while helping them find strength — and to steer them, regardless of their situation, toward positivity and hope.

“I will have patients at work who are thankful for the opportunity to be heard by someone,” said Valdez. “I want to continue offering that piece of their healing. It’s hard to be hopeful and to believe we have strength. Life is very hard and I have lived that hardship out through my son’s death. 

“To help someone and to be that light for someone else — to encourage them that they can pull out of what they have gone through — that’s what I want to do.”

By earning her master’s degree and finding ways to incorporate her newly found skills and knowledge into her career, Valdez said she is putting into action some of what she sensed her son would.

She credits much of her strength to her faith and how God has helped her get through the educational piece. She also shares that faith with her patients.

“I have told patients, ‘Your story is like shattered pieces on the floor. But God wants to gather all those pieces up and make something of your life.’ I also remind them that their future deserves their very best. And there is always a way to find positive hope from trauma.”

Earn a master’s in social work

The MSW program, with a focus in trauma-competent practice, offers students a supportive and individual education in the classroom and in field education.