Aarón Solorio entered the graduate program in counseling psychology at USF Santa Rosa in August, with support from the Healthcare Foundation’s Mental Health Talent Pipeline scholarship program. Aarón is one of three new scholarship recipients who started their graduate studies this fall as aspiring bilingual, bicultural mental health professionals committed to serving the northern Sonoma County community.
“I’m definitely looking forward to being a resource to my community,” says Aarón. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.”
Born and raised in Sonoma County, Aarón attended middle school and high school in the Rohnert Park / Cotati area. His parents had immigrated to the US from Michoacan, after which his father first found work as a farmworker at a winery in Geyserville.
“That was the job that a lot of family members or close friends would go into,” remembers Aarón. “Folks coming to the States would go to work as farm workers until things got a little bit better in their situation.”
Aarón is the first in his family to attend college and, now, graduate school. He describes himself as a nontraditional student who took some time to recognize the value and opportunity in higher education.
“My high school experience wasn’t the best,” he admits. “It took me a few years after I graduated to navigate life, struggle a little bit, to come to the understanding that the things that I was doing in those gap years were not working out. I decided to give education another shot, to see if it could be a better experience this time.”
Aarón started at the junior college in 2015, transferring to UC Berkeley in 2018, from where he would graduate with a degree in sociology and a focus on access to higher education. He says going back to school first introduced him to the subject of mental health and sparked his interest in mental health as a profession.
“My pursuit of a career in mental health comes from my own experience with mental health challenges and the lack of knowledge that I had about it,” he explains.
“I didn’t learn about mental health until my first year in community college. I never knew about anxiety, PTSD, all these things that were out there and that we just normalized. I realized, I’ve got to start letting my loved ones know about mental health because it’s something real that we’ve experienced and that we’ve got to really work on.”
Returning to northern Sonoma County from Berkeley as a firm believer in higher education, Aarón volunteered to be a mentor to local youth and eventually became an academic advisor at Sonoma State University, where he works today.
“I do the work that I do as a way of paying it forward,” says Aarón. “There are a lot of people in my life that have helped get to where I am today, folks who took that time to talk with me, to guide me, to help me find my untapped potential. So I’m sharing my knowledge and lived experience with students to make sure they are supported, and so that they don’t have to go through struggles that I’ve already gone through—and if they are going through those struggles, making sure that I’m sharing my knowledge so they don’t have to struggle as much as I had to.”
It was in his role that Aarón returned to the subject of mental health, this time as a professional path.
“Working as an academic advisor, I began to feel a lack of knowledge on how best to support the students,” he says. “Discussion with students is very academically focused, but I saw there was often a need for a bit more, to really provide a holistic approach and check in on the mental health side as well. Higher education can be very demanding and create a lot of pressure. It reminded me of when I was first in community college and the awakening I had to the importance of mental health. That drew me back to the subject and made me want to become a therapist.”
Aarón had known about the USF program in counseling psychology and was encouraged by its welcoming of students with other backgrounds besides psychology. Coincidentally, he was further encouraged by the fact that the coordinator of the program, Dra. Daniela Domínguez, was someone he had already met and greatly respected.
“I had met Dra. Domínguez when I served as a mentor for ¡DALE!, a program through On the Margins,” he explains. “It was an amazing experience being in that community, where you’re seeing the future leaders of Sonoma County, the future leaders of the State, learning more about themselves and gaining the skill sets to be out there helping to change the world. It’s very inspiring.”
“Once I saw that Dra. Domínguez was the USF program’s coordinator, I knew it would be engaging and something I would get a lot out of,” says Aarón. “I had a good understanding that it was going to be social justice–focused, and that there would be a diverse faculty to learn from.”
Aarón says the program is meeting his expectations, and that he’s been especially appreciative of the pedagogy of his professors, who draw on their own clinical experience in elucidating and preparing students for the work they will be doing. He adds that his own experience has given him a strong sense of the need for bilingual and bicultural practitioners.
“There’s for sure a need. The mental health crisis is real. We see it with our youth. We see it in our families. I’m looking forward to being a resource to the community. That includes using my bilingual skills to be able to reach more community members and serve our community more holistically.”
Aarón emphasizes that while his career path is driven by a desire to support his community, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and inspiration he draws from community and family throughout.
“I’m definitely proud of the roots. It’s another reason why I keep doing what I do. All of that pushing forward is always fueled by my family, my parents, but also all the folks who don’t have the same opportunities that I have, and the same privilege that I have. I never take those opportunities for granted.”