Psychology Student Launches Career at Nonprofit That Helps Families Heal

Psychology Student Launches Career at Nonprofit That Helps Families Heal

By Edmond Ortiz

Ana Zavala is interested in exploring the minds of criminals.

Specifically, she hopes to develop a career where she examines and determines what makes a person do what they do. Zavala is off to a solid start, graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, majoring in criminology.

Originally from the Rio Grande Valley, Zavala has always been intrigued by crime and criminal justice.

“I like the concept of studying people’s behavior and why they commit crimes,” Zavala said. “I’ve always wanted to study how they intersect with each other.”

Zavala transferred to A&M-San Antonio from South Texas College. She initially felt nervous about transferring from a larger, older institution to A&M San Antonio, but she said the transition couldn’t have gone better.

“The smaller classroom sizes make it easier to interact with professors, and it feels like they really care that you’re learning,” she said. “A lot of my professors made their classes very entertaining and brought in a lot of real-life scenarios.”

Those efforts to incorporate more real-life practicality into coursework expanded Zavala’s interest in criminology, especially how one’s mental health, education, upbringing and social surroundings can all contribute to potential criminal behavior.

With that in mind, Zavala pursued opportunities at the Mays Center for Experiential Learning and Community Engagement. There, she participated in C2C (Campus to Community) Engaged, a work-based learning program that leverages federal work-study funds to place students in community-based internships.

Zavala spent the fall 2023 semester interning at the local nonprofit Family Violence Prevention Services (FVPS), which aids victims of family violence.

Mysti Frazier, the Mays Center’s assistant director for internships, said Zavala’s proactiveness stood out in the internship application process, where she showed real dedication and leadership.

“Ana demonstrated enthusiasm for her work, professionalism, and readiness to enter the workforce,” said Frazier.

Zavala said between her social psychology courses, working with FVPS staff, and observing clients, she learned to guide young children at the nonprofit through age-appropriate curriculum.

“It’s very interesting seeing how children come to understand things by looking at their parents’ behavior, what they’ve been through, and how they express their emotions,” Zavala said

Zavala’s hands-on internship was so successful that FVPS offered her a full-time job as a program specialist, which she accepted in February. Zavala works for the nonprofit’s Celebrating Families program, which helps parents, children, and other family members heal from trauma and re-establish strong, healthy bonds within the home.

“We really appreciated Ana’s administrative abilities and how she was such a quick learner,” said Christina Campos, FVPS’ director of Community Integrated Services. “She facilitated children’s groups during her internship and provided language support for Spanish-speaking clients. We were all very impressed with her, and when we had a full-time program specialist position open up, we thought she’d be a good fit. We’re happy to have Ana on board.”

Zavala said that after she graduates she might pursue a master’s degree in school psychology. She hopes to get licensed to work with children and their families to help curb at-risk behaviors.

“I see myself as a school psychologist, but my ultimate goal is to be a forensics psychologist.”

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