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Alumni | First Generation | Health Education and Human Sciences | Lion VoicesFebruary 09, 2024

Coming Full Circle with Yosey Cardenas

Written By: Ian Silvester

As academic advisor Yosey Cardenas approaches the end of her first year in the role working with students in the College of Health, Education, and Human Sciences, her time at the University of Arkansas – Fort Smith is coming full circle.

A few short years ago, Cardenas wasn’t sure if college was the right path to pursue. But now, on the other side, she is grateful for what her education has provided and considers graduating one of her most significant accomplishments.

However, it requires turning back the dial of time to understand the accomplishment and why this past year signifies a full-circle moment.

Looking Back

Cardenas was born on the west coast of Mexico in Tepic, the largest city in Nayarit. In 2006, as she turned 5, Cardenas, her mom, and older sister moved to Fort Smith to be closer to her aunts and uncles.

Once in Fort Smith, Cardenas described having to “grow up really fast,” acting as her mom’s translator. But she wouldn’t trade her experiences because “getting out of my comfort zone and always taking on those challenges” has made things easier for Cardenas.

Cardenas continued to balance growing up, going to school, and helping her family. Soon, it was time to think about college, but it wasn’t on Cardenas' radar until she began high school as part of the inaugural class at the Future School of Fort Smith.

“My older sister didn’t go to college, and my mom went to a trade school. … Honestly, I didn’t think I was going to come to college,” she admitted.

However, the influence of a persistent advisor and a friend’s sister pushed Cardenas to continue her education and do so in her second hometown of Fort Smith. Plus, she was never one to shy away from stepping out of her comfort zone, even when it meant being the first in her family to do so.

Embracing the Uncomfortable

Ready to take on college as a first-gen student, Cardenas began to settle into life as a college student. She set a course to become a nurse, made friends, and was active in campus events. Just as her second semester began, it came to a screeching halt.

The COVID-19 pandemic paused traditional in-class learning, but as a manager at Slim Chickens, Cardenas couldn’t put a pause on work.

“It was really hard to balance both (online learning and a full-time job), but I learned,” she said proudly. “COVID was very chaotic, but I feel like it did help me take on challenges a lot quicker.”

As things slowly got back to normal at school, Cardenas wasn’t sure if nursing was still the right path. She learned more about social work during her coursework and felt a pull to change course. Doing what she does best, Cardenas embraced the uncomfortable, leaned into her ability to take challenges head-on, and changed her major to social work.

“I learned more about what social workers do and the deeper connection you get with people,” Cardenas explained. “That’s when I switched over to social work, and I just kind of stayed here.”

And stayed here she has. Cardenas graduated from AV in May 2023 with her bachelor’s degree in social work and, since graduation, has worked as an academic advisor for current social work and education students.

Completing the Circuit

While working on her degree as a social worker, Cardenas spent time working in the community as part of her field placement She spent a semester working with high school seniors and then a semester working with adults at Hope Campus. Both opportunities gave her valuable hands-on experience as a social worker beyond the classroom.

But it was the in-between space that truly captured Cardenas’ attention and excitement to remain at AV.

“Working with the different populations (students and adults) made me realize that the middle section was going to be mainly my passion,” she said.

Cardenas’ professor, Madison Dickerson, an assistant professor of social work, was the one who put the academic advisor role on her radar. Thinking back to when she applied, Cardenas laughed at her former self for not realizing how much her degree and real-world experience related to the job.

“One of the things we learned is how to work with people and find that connection,” Cardenas explained. As an immigrant and first-gen student, those connections come easily to Cardenas. “I love working with people, and I’ve always been a people person. It makes me really happy to know that I can have a little bit of getting them on the right track.”

When pressed to decide, Cardenas said earning her degree and advocating for current students are her two most significant accomplishments. However, her tenacity and willingness to be comfortable in the uncomfortable come in a close second.

As the dial is set back to the present, Cardenas’ full-circle journey may look complete, but it’s just getting started.

“This campus really takes care of students,” Cardenas said. “I think that’s something that everyone sees … it’s not just going to school to get a degree, it’s more than that.”


Watch Yosey's story:

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  • Staff Voices
  • Health Education and Human Sciences
  • Social Work

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