Although Texas Southmost College Psychology Instructor and Faculty Senate President Dr. Deborah Huerta didn’t take the traditional path to teaching, her real world and academic journeys led her to TSC, where she has taught since 2001.
“I always wanted to teach, but I wanted to practice first,” said Dr. Huerta. “I’m a practicing clinician. I had the opportunity to start teaching and never looked back.”
Originally from Dallas, Dr. Huerta first visited the Rio Grande Valley while conducting graduate school work in San Antonio. She traveled to the Valley and crossed the border to collect data on children with special health care needs in Matamoros.
While crossing, she noticed the TSC campus. She couldn’t help but think about the College’s unique location along the river, the cultural opportunities and benefits to the communities on both sides of the border.
A few years later, upon graduation from Our Lady of the Lake University with a doctorate in counseling psychology, Dr. Huerta decided to gain some real world experience in the field before pursuing a teaching position.
She found her way back to the Valley when she was hired by the College as the director of the counseling center. With this additional professional experience, Dr. Huerta transitioned into a faculty position.
“I love to be in the classroom,” said Dr. Huerta. “I’ve taught psychology for 13 years. I believe in the community college and I believe in our mission.”
“Once I had the experience, I felt I was ready to teach because I use the stories from my experience to teach all the time,” she added. “I’ve worked with patients in corrections facilities. I’ve been out in the wilderness with adjudicated youth. So it’s a lot of great real-world experience that I can bring into the classroom. The students like to read about it, but then when I tell them about actual cases and what it truly looks like, that’s pretty interesting for them and it brings it to the right here and now, and that helps.”
Dr. Huerta’s combined experience and expertise in the psychology field has helped her develop an enriching classroom experience for her students, and it even helped effectuate change that has benefited all the students at TSC.
Based on research conducted by Dr. Huerta at the College, TSC President Dr. Lily F. Tercero, facilitated the creation of a student study space located at South Hall.
“The College has allowed me the time to do research here. It isn’t typical in a community college that you have that opportunity,” explained Dr. Huerta. “The study space is a beautiful area lined with tables and charging stations. Within 10 minutes from opening the door for the first time, it was full. It’s bringing students into the building. Students and faculty know about this area so we can meet with them.”
To conduct her research, Dr. Huerta has a small research lab that’s open to her students. The expansion of the learning environment coupled with her passion for research, which she injects into her courses, has given her students additional learning opportunities that they wouldn’t be exposed to until the latter half of their undergraduate degree.
“Every semester I let the students know what I’m doing so they can come work in the lab,” said Dr. Huerta. “I typically have a small group of students that will come and work on surveys with me or look at how we design different hypothesis. It’s an active part of what I do. They are getting some hands on very early, and they like it, so it’s fun.”
Dr. Huerta is currently conducting research on academic self-efficacy and hopes to have enough data collected after spring 2016 to submit for publication.
“I’m looking at the level of confidence students have, what is their self-efficacy, when they come on campus,” she noted. “That confidence, in many ways, is more important than the skills they come in with. If we can identify those students that need help in this area, we can then provide them with some services or programming that can boost their confidence, boost that academic self-efficacy, then they can boost their grades and we can keep them on campus.”
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