Renée Guzman knows what it is like to grow up as a military child, from a family for whom service is a calling. With her degree in social welfare, she hopes to carry that service forward.
Military life is a unique experience, as is life as a military child. UW Tacoma senior Renée Guzman knows a little something about the latter. Her mother served in the army for 21 years. The younger Guzman went where Mom went including, Alaska, Kentucky, Germany (twice), Texas, Indiana and, finally, Washington state.
There are definite upsides to being the child of a service member. For starters, you get exposed to places and cultures that might not have been available to you otherwise. Moving every few years means getting a chance to make new friends and even reinvent yourself. The downside is that you may lack roots and those friendships you created could fade with time and distance.
Guzman’s experience is a mix. She enjoyed getting the chance to meet people from around the world and learn about different ways of life. This openness contrasted with Guzman’s experience upon returning to the United States after her second stint in Germany. The family moved to Indiana. “No one was like me,” she said. “I didn’t know anybody, and all the kids grew up together and their parents grew up with each other.”
Guzman describes those two years as lonely and isolating. “I’d never really experienced racism until we moved there,” she said. “It wasn’t blunt, it was subtler and came down to being treated differently compared to others.”
Guzman’s mother got to pick her last duty station. “I pushed hard for Washington,” said Renee Guzman. “I was in high school at the time and knew I wanted to stay in the states.” The family headed west and settled in Lakewood. Guzman enrolled in Lakes High School as a junior.
Service is big in Guzman’s family. Her mother spent more than two decades in the military and her father is a firefighter. He also served in the military. One of Guzman’s uncles is a firefighter, another is a police officer. Her grandmother, mother and aunt are either teachers or have been in the past.
Service, in particular social service, intrigued Guzman. “I did some research into UW Tacoma’s social welfare program and there were gold stars pretty much everywhere,” she said. Guzman applied to UW Tacoma and started on campus in the fall of 2017.
The past few years have been busy for Guzman. Among other things, she worked as a writing consultant at UW Tacoma’s Teaching & Learning Center. “Our job is to help students with their academic writing skills,” she said. “We try to give students the skills they’ll need, not just for the next assignment, but for life after college and beyond.”
Guzman also works with Assistant Teaching Professor Diana Falco on a research project looking at instances where death sentences were commuted to life in prison. “We’re currently going through records in each state to see the number of people that were on death row who had their sentences changed to life in prison,” she said.
This is enough to keep anyone busy, but Guzman needed to find time to complete her practicum. The 22-year-old is currently interning at the Washington State Department of Children, Youth, and Families. Guzman is assigned to a supervisor and works with families who have reached out to the agency in search of support and/or services.
Guzman graduates in June but her time away from the classroom may be short-lived. She is applying to the advanced-standing Master of Social Work program at UW Tacoma. If accepted, Guzman will be back on campus in January of 2022. “My end goal is to work with veterans and military families,” she said. “I want to get my social work license so I can work in a hospital setting with veterans.”
In a story about increasing exposure to wildfire smoke in our region, Associate Professor Robin Evans-Agnew talks about the resulting increased prevalence of asthma and its inequitable burden on society.