During her salutatorian speech eight years ago, Anissa Garza shared that graduating from Cristo Rey was a triumph for her whole family. Today, those words have never rung truer for the first-generation student, her two younger brothers, and parents. All their lives, she says, have been shaped and transformed by the support of the CRSM community.
Now 26-years-old, the second-highest ranking graduate of the CRSM Class of ’15 is in her first year of a doctoral program in clinical psychology at the University of Memphis. She’s also a graduate research assistant in the REACH Lab under the mentorship of Dr. Kathryn Howell.
A former Schuler scholar, her LinkedIn is a checklist of many achievements, including graduating from Bates College in Lewiston, MA with a dual degree in psychology and religious studies. She’s served for the last three years as a research assistant at the National Center for PTSD in Boston, MA. At Bates, Anissa a Bonner Program scholar, volunteered at a program for adults with Alzheimer’s and served as a Program Assistant at the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Maine. She also was the recipient of the Harward Award for Outstanding Community Volunteerism and Student Leadership from Bates’ Harward Center for Community Partnerships.
During the same time, her mom, Elida, “Ellie,” was promoted from food service lead at Waukegan High School to Assistant Food Service Director for the entire Waukegan school district. Her brother, Raul, CRSM Class of ’19 and Promise Scholar, is graduating in May from Marion University in Fond du Lac, WI with a psychology degree. Her youngest brother, Daniel, is about to enter high school. Her father, who struggled with employment when Anissa was in high school, is a foreman at a local landscaping company.
The grit and perseverance she absorbed from her years at CRSM have been her driving force during graduate school.
“I never expected landing a post-baccalaureate research assistant position to be so difficult, but when institutions turned me down, I relied on Mr.O’s (Mike Odiotti, principal) teaching about grit and perseverance. If he hadn’t ingrained that in me, I might have given up. But instead, I just kept churning out applications and reaching out to the network I had built for myself during my undergraduate studies.”
These days, when she’s not taking three classes and working 20 hours as a graduate research assistant, Anissa loves taking her dog, Tala, for walks at the nearby Overton Park in Memphis, TN. During COVID, she also discovered the therapeutic and stress-reducing rewards of refinishing old furniture, stripping it and giving it new life.
“We all had to work really hard to get me here,” says Anissa. She says her graduate research studies were inspired by her own witnessing of young people struggling with mental health issues, a topic that is generally highly stigmatized in the Latino culture.