Stephanie Sosa came with her family to the United States from Mexico at the age of five and grew up in Petaluma. Her passionate interest in psychology and mental health advocacy began as an undergraduate at Sonoma State.
“Growing up, I was not aware of the issue of mental health,” she admits. “I didn’t know it was a thing until I got to college.”
The subject and field came as a personal revelation, making her aware of the generational trauma in her family and giving her a framework for understanding her own experiences.
“Classes in college, especially in psychology, were where I most identified,” she says. “And my upbringing and background were one reason why I was so interested in it. It just seemed so important, because once I brought the subject of mental health to my parents, we started talking about what mental health looked like in our family. And how that could be changed.”
Her college coursework also sparked a professional calling. In her sophomore year, she did an internship with Latino Service Providers, joining its Youth Promotor program.
“I really enjoyed doing the work,” she recalls, “speaking up and navigating for the Latinx community, and learning about the different organizations locally that supported those efforts. After that, I just became interested in the field.”
Stephanie soon took a job at Mentor Me, in Petaluma, where in addition to helping match students with local mentors she found herself applying the navigation skills she acquired as a youth promotor.
“There is a lot of need in our community, [including] support with mental health, and we didn’t really provide that type of support at Mentor Me,” she explains. “So I found myself supporting individuals by looking for resources for them and directing them to those services.”
Stephanie was no stranger to the Mentor Me program when she started working there. As a student in middle school, she herself had been a mentee. Moreover, her mentor, who had been the director of the program, remained a friend and supporter to her and her family. Stephanie credits her with helping her get to where she is today.
“She was the one who supported me to go to college and gave me the tools that I needed, and helped me with my college application and my personal statement,” explains Stephanie. “So she really helped me a lot.”
Becoming a mental health professional builds on a lifelong desire to care for others.
“What attracted me to the program the most was that it was so diverse and so inclusive for the bilingual, bicultural population—and how their methodology is about social justice.”Stephanie Sosa, Mental Health Talent Pipeline Awardee
“I think I was naturally a caregiver growing up,” relates Stephanie. “I saw myself doing the same thing when I was working at Mentor Me advocating for youth. I also became an intern with a restorative justice [diversion] program, which was designed to prevent youth who have difficult issues going on from going into the criminal justice system. Doing that work made me realize that I wanted to work with youth.
“Luckily, I had a mentor to guide me through my youth, and I was able to go to college and get my bachelor’s degree. That’s another reason I wanted to advocate for youth—especially Latino youth who I knew were struggling because of the language barrier and the stigma—I wanted to support them in gaining the opportunity they need.”
After deferring a year to secure financial support through the Mental Health Talent Pipeline scholarship program, Stephanie entered USF Santa Rosa’s graduate program in counseling psychology in September. Again, it was Stephanie’s mentor who played an important role in opening up this next step in her career.
“I first heard about USF through my mentor,” says Stephanie. “She just completed her graduate degree at USF. I was sure I wanted to work in the mental health field but I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted to go with that. She reached out and let me know about her experience. I got interested and wanted to see what that was all about,” she explains. “I started doing my own research and looking into therapy as a profession.”
The graduate program in Marriage and Family Therapy at USF Santa Rosa seemed a perfect fit, she recalls.
“What attracted me to the program the most was that it was so diverse and so inclusive for the bilingual, bicultural population—and how their methodology is about social justice. I also really like how the program was set up, in terms of doing all coursework in the first two years and then focusing on your traineeship in the last year. I also looked into [USF professor] Dr. [Daniela] Dominguez and the work that she did, and I really liked that she was so involved in the community and for the community. That’s why I was interested in the program.”
While applying to the program, Stephanie worked as a case manager at Seneca Family of Agencies, in their Education and School Partnership Program. “My designated district was Cotati / Rohnert Park,” she explains. “Especially coming back to school from a pandemic, I saw a lot of need from students in the area of mental health, how much support they needed.”
“Working with Seneca, I knew I was in the right field,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do mental health, and I knew where I wanted to go.”