Outstanding students persevere through pain, follow passions

When Katie Parker registered for graduate courses at the University of Houston-Victoria in 2016, she had no idea a life-changing event would cause her to juggle several surgeries and physical therapy along with her classes.

Katie Parker
Katie Parker

Four years ago, Parker was hit by a driver while she was walking her dog, and her recovery has been a long journey.

“The last few years was really tough,” she said. “It has been a little overwhelming, and now everything has been happening really fast. It is a huge relief to graduate.”

Parker, a Victoria resident, recently was named the Spring 2020 Outstanding Graduate Student for the UHV School of Arts & Sciences. Danielle Charles of McAllen was named the school’s Outstanding Undergraduate Student.

Beverly Tomek
Beverly Tomek

“Katie and Danielle are dedicated students who persevered to reach their goals and are ready to make their mark on the world,” said Beverly Tomek, interim dean of the school. “We are blessed to have such creative and caring students in our school, and I wish them luck in their endeavors.”

Each semester, professors from UHV’s three schools select outstanding graduates to be honored during commencement. UHV has postponed its spring commencement ceremony because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Parker graduated with a Specialist in School Psychology degree and plans to become a Licensed Specialist in School Psychology in the next few months. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Texas A&M University in College Station. Parker is hoping to work with elementary special-needs students within the Victoria Independent School District, where she worked this year as a licensed specialist in school psychology intern as part of the UHV school psychology program.

“Children have a way of teaching you a little about yourself,” Parker said. “They are blunt and do not hold back, and being able to work with them is very rewarding. I enjoy working with parents and children to develop a plan of what the child needs.”

The road to the classroom was a long one for Parker, who spent a month in the intensive care unit after the accident. There was even a moment when she was put on life support, she said. Parker was able to pull through, and she started school in fall 2016 as a part-time, online student.

Because her hip shattered during the accident, Parker had to have several surgeries and a hip replacement. She went through physical therapy for the past three years in order to be able to walk again. Now, Parker is doing well physically, and she and her husband, Jonathan, are expecting their first child in June.

“It is a little overwhelming because everything is happening so fast,” she said. “I was shocked when I was told that I was named an outstanding student. It was so unexpected, and I was so happy.”

Danielle Charles
Danielle Charles

Parker would like to thank her husband, Jonathan; Elise Hendricker, UHV associate professor of psychology; Shannon Viola, the director of the school psychology program at UHV; and Jolene Barrientos from the Victoria Independent School District’s special education department for their help.

Charles earned her Bachelor of Arts in English and plans to attend the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in the fall to pursue a Master of Fine Arts. She was also a member of the Hispanic Student Association and volunteered with Be Well Victoria, a local nonprofit, before the COVID-19 pandemic. She would like to become a college professor and possibly spend time in the Peace Corps and write a book.

Charles said she also was surprised to learn she was named an outstanding student.

“It feels really nice to be recognized because everyone at the school works so hard,” she said. “It makes me really happy to know that someone nominated me. It helps make up for not having a graduation and with everything else going on.”

A Rio Grande Valley native, Charles said she came to UHV two years ago, and she didn’t know anyone when she arrived in Victoria. The beginning of her time at UHV was rough for the shy Charles, but she began to feel more comfortable once she got to know her literature peers.

“UHV was the right decision for me because of the community here,” she said.

The UHV community is what she cherishes and will miss the most, she said. Charles, a writer, was a member of the Playwriting Club and would submit poetry to contests. She enjoyed spending time with her creative writing peers. The UHV professors are also approachable and go above and beyond to help their students achieve success, she said. Charles would like to thank all her professors who helped her with her writing.

“It felt like everyone was working toward a goal together,” Charles said. “I have a lot of fond memories of the people I met at UHV.”

The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.

Amber Aldaco