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Living The Wolf Pack Way: Outstanding Letter of Appointment winner Jocelyn Mata’s journey

Jocelyn Mata describes how family, hard work and opportunity led her to become an oncology social worker with Renown Health and teach in the School of Social Work at the University of Nevada, Reno

Every Monday when I arrive on campus and walk past my Wolf Pack Way banner on my way to teach, I am reminded of all of the sacrifices and hard work that has been a part of my journey. 

As a Mexican immigrant who came to the United States at the age of seven, I never imagined all that this country would have in store for me. My parents came to the United States in search of a better life for my siblings and me. They made the biggest sacrifice to leave their careers behind as they did so. My mother was a teacher in Mexico and my father was a lawyer. I always worked hard because they instilled that drive in all of their children and always told us how important education was. My parents worked in housekeeping to support us when they moved to the United States, and I always felt like I needed to make them proud and to see that their sacrifice had been worth it. 

My journey hasn’t been easy.  When I was in middle school, we received the dreaded letter of deportation and had to fight hard to become legal residents of the United States.  I didn’t apply to all my dream colleges despite the fact that I was an honor student, athlete and served in the student council in high school because I didn’t have a social security number. We finally were granted legal resident status and I submitted a late application for college. I was accepted into the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and I graduated in 2006 with a bachelor’s in Psychology, a bachelor’s in French and a bachelor’s in Elementary Education.

After that, I moved back to my hometown of South Lake Tahoe and began my social work career.  I made the decision to pursue my master’s degree in Social Work because I fell in love with helping people. 

I worked in Child Protective Services for El Dorado County for six years while going to school full time to obtain my Master of Social Work. I graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a Master of Social Work degree in May 2010.

I went on to work for the State of Nevada Division of Child Welfare in quality assurance.   I traveled across rural Nevada training new social workers in the child welfare field.  This work afforded me the opportunity to work with a diverse group of social workers who all had the same purpose to help people and make this world a better place.  

Following my time in child welfare I decided to pursue my dream job and applied to work as an oncology social worker and was hired at Renown Health. I love working with oncology patients alongside doctors, surgeons and support staff to ensure we get our patients to treatment.  

Then came the opportunity to become a letter of appointment (LOA) instructor at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2018. I love teaching at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Social Work.

With my experience in child welfare, behavioral health and oncology social work I have met many social workers in my path and have learned from each of them. Teaching gives me the ability to impart to my students the knowledge and experiences I have from working in our amazing field of social work. I believe social work is an integral part of every aspect of human life and want to continue to give back to the field of social work.

The class I teach at the undergraduate and graduate level is a field seminar where we put into practice all that is taught in the classroom. I love hearing about the experiences my students are facing in their respective placements and how they problem-solve situations as they arise. I love watching my students go from very reserved eager students in their respective field placements as interns and evolve in their second semester with the experiences they have had, oftentimes becoming more confident in their practice. That confidence helps prepare them to become licensed social workers in the field. They are the future of social work and I continue to see how upon graduation they mold the world we live in.

I am a dreamer who believes we are all different and we can learn from each other and help each other. I am passionate about teaching future social workers about self-care, boundaries, self-determination and providing compassion with each interaction they make with individuals, communities and the world as a whole. I hope I continue to be given the opportunity to teach in the future.  

I have had seven cohorts of students so far, and I was so honored to be considered when I was nominated for the Foundation Outstanding Letter of Appointment for fall 2023 the Faculty Senate Campus Affairs Committee.

When I received notification I had won, I was in tears.  There are no words to describe how humble I am to be receiving this award. I believe that each person can make a difference in someone’s life and that is all I ever teach my students. I felt so honored to even have the opportunity to teach at a university level, let alone win an award. I am beyond grateful and honored.

I loved attending the University for my master’s degree in Social Work and couldn’t be more proud to be a Wolf Pack alumni. At the Honor the Best celebration last year, I felt so humbled to be among amazing community leaders who embody all that the Wolf Pack represents. For me, it’s all of the hard work I have put into my education and career. It is a reminder of “Look at that! Not bad for a Mexican immigrant.”  I never in a million years dreamt how my career of service would award me with such incredible opportunities.

About the author

Jocelyn Mata, LSW, MSW, OSW-C is an outpatient oncology social worker at Renown Health.

Jocelyn Mata.
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