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Maria Gelves Depends on Head and Heart to Deliver Her Dream of a College Education

Maria Gelves How often have we checked in with our head and heart when making a decision? One University of St. Thomas-Houston graduate learned firsthand that it takes a community with a heart to give her brain the power to succeed.  

Studying psychology — particularly the brain/heart connection to psychological and physical health — is the academic sweet spot for University of St. Thomas senior Maria Gelves. Despite incredible obstacles, she graduates with Honors on Saturday, May 13, at 4 p.m. at the Toyota Center, with a B.S. in Psychology, a B.A. in Biology, and a neuroscience minor, pre-med track.

Gelves Holds Hope for Her Future 

Gelves plans to pursue a graduate degree in counseling.

"By receiving my master's degree," she said, "I hope to begin counseling underserved and minority populations as a licensed professional counselor (LPC). My goal in this profession is to make counseling services more accessible to the Hispanic and Latinx communities who might struggle with the stigmatization of mental health, the language barrier, and the affordability of therapy."

"Down the line, I am considering continuing my career to receive an M.D. in Psychiatry or a Ph.D conducting biology-psychology research.”

In the meantime, Gelves wants to continue her education at UST’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. 

"I've fallen in love with UST's ambiance and the people who instill heart into their students."

Gelves Bumpy Undergraduate Journey 

Gelves arrived at UST during an extremely difficult personal time in her personal life. Her father had been diagnosed with liver cancer in 2019. He needed a dutiful daughter to assist him in his cancer journey. As a result, Gelves turned down her opportunity to attend Brown University and stayed close to home. Taking her father to his doctor's appointments filled her days. All of this was during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her father would pass away in 2022.

Surviving Homelessness

As her father’s health failed, Gelves’ life fell apart. "I wasn't on the best terms with my parents, and I moved out of their home. I moved in with a friend and shortly after found myself homeless for six months while I lived in my car.”

Gelves suffered from depression and took advantage of the vital services UST offers, like the Career Services Center and the Counseling Center.

"I had a lot of doubts which translated into hopelessness, depression, and an early-life existential crisis,” she said. "Using these two free services simultaneously allowed me to process my journey more manageably and be more confident that I was where I was supposed to be.

She credits UST professors, Counseling and Career Services, and a staff mentor with helping her to achieve her education dreams while "my undergraduate journey was unpredictable and bumpy." 

Gelves Period of "Re-actualizing"

"During this time, I began rebuilding my life," Gelves said. "I focused on my education by bringing my declining GPA back up. I began going to the Counseling Center more frequently on campus. I quit my job at Lowe's to begin working as a medical scribe — first in pediatrics, then transferring to emergency room medicine — in an attempt to build my resume towards something more oriented to my future goals. Lastly, I rebuilt my relationship with my parents by visiting them frequently."

Professors and Staff Gave Me a Second Chance

"People who have impacted my journey positively include Professors Dr. Jo Meier-Marquis, Dr. Crystal Tran, Dr. Maia Larios, and staff member Danna Knight in Residence Life. Because of these people, I received a second chance and have become a better person while here."

Along the way, Gelves decided to study counseling and became a research assistant at the Children's Learning Institute at UTHealth in the Medical Center. She also works on campus as a Resident Assistant, which meant she now had a place to live.

"The Residence Life scholarship helped me focus more on my education and is why I will walk the stage this Saturday," she said. 

Everything was coming together.

Dreams Come True: Learning to Rely on Friends, Family, God and Me.

"While at UST, I truly learned how to live with myself," Gelves said. "I gained the type of independence that made me understand that the only person I could always genuinely rely on is myself, and if I wasn't there for myself, then no one was going to be. 

"Most importantly, I have made lifelong relationships that I would not have otherwise. I now feel like I have a community behind me that is more than ready to help me whenever I am down in the gutters," Gelves said. "That means the world to me as my mother is the only blood family I have here in the U.S.