Strategy for Success

Finding a calling in social work was the first step

Yamilex Vega has a plan.

In just under four years, Vega found her life’s calling, was admitted to her dream school, did original research, helped reunite families, completed a degree in social work (three semesters early) and got her first job. Just imagine what she’ll do after turning 21.

“I didn’t actually know I was going into social work until my junior year of high school,” Vega explains. “I wasn’t even aware the profession existed.” While she’d dedicated lots of time to community service and wanted to find a career helping people, Vega figured she might go into law. “When I started doing mock trial I saw it wasn’t for me,” she says. “Around that time I learned that social work existed, and realized it was the right path.”

The possibility of working in child welfare first sparked Vega’s interest in the field, though after entering the undergraduate program at the Steve Hicks School of Social Work, she realized the possibilities were much wider. “You can also go into the clinical side of social work, or medical work, work with senior citizens — you can work for the government, or in legislative positions,” she says. “It’s a very versatile education.”

Though she’s kept a tight focus on child welfare work, Vega has explored it in many ways. For her courses that required time spent in social work agencies, she supported children’s mental health services at the Austin Child Guidance Center and provided classroom support at UT Austin’s Child Development Center. She also completed the three-month training to become a caseworker with Texas Child Protective Services, where she took on her own cases as a student and is now working full-time.

On campus, Vega completed a thesis as part of her participation in the Social Work Honors Program, interviewing providers about the unique needs of people who have survived human trafficking — many of whom were adolescents in foster care. “Now that I've made the connection between foster youth and trafficking, it might be something to research in the future since I'll be working in child welfare,” she explains.

For now, Vega is making the adjustment to being a full-time CPS caseworker. Her next step? She’s pretty sure that after a few years of experience on the job, she’ll be returning to UT Austin for her master’s in social work.