CPS Student's Passion Is Human Rights

CPS Student's Passion Is Human Rights

NSU Graduate, Center for Psychological Studies

by Charlyne Varkonyi Schaub

When Maria Espinola moved to Florida from Argentina in 2001, she didn’t speak English, had no money, no green card, and no friends. "I had everything against me, except me," she said. Espinola has done much more than just to overcome those obstacles. After receiving her bachelor’s degree from NSU’s Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences in 2009, she earned honors admission to the doctoral program in clinical forensic psychology in NSU’s Center for Psychological Studies (CPS). Students enrolled in the center’s Ph.D. or Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology programs can earn, as an intermediate degree, an M.S. in Clinical Psychology. Espinola is in the Psy.D. program and will receive a master’s degree next May.

She serves as president of NSU’s Student Coalition on Human Rights, which she founded after winning a grant from the Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement. She also received funding from the Division of Student Affairs, the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS), CPS, the Student Government Association, and outside sources. Espinola has lobbied for the rights of women and children in the Congo and for passage of The Conflict Minerals Trade Act, whose goal is to stop trade in minerals that are sustaining a war of atrocities, especially against women, in the Congo. One of her projects is Invisible Children, which works to prevent children from becoming soldiers. Espinola took the lead to bring this national group to NSU and organizes events such as last year’s Face-to- Face Tour in which speakers from Invisible Children visited the NSU campus to raise awareness about the war in Africa.

She also is conducting interviews in Spanish for an NSU video forum, organized by Larry A. Calderon, Ed.D., NSU’s vice president for community and governmental affairs. Stretching herself academically and being involved with myriad activities are part of Espinola’s plan. "I had to prove that I could do it," she said. "I went overboard. If a professor said get four sources, I would get 40. I read the books and come to class prepared."

One reason Espinola chose NSU for her doctoral degree was because of the work of Lenore Walker, Ed.D., who has written 20 books on domestic violence. Walker, now her adviser, says Espinola has broadened gender violence to include human trafficking. "Every now and then, a student comes along who you know has a great future ahead of him or her," said Walker, a CPS professor and executive director of the Domestic Violence Institute. "Espinola is one of them. She has passion, commitment, and energy to do good in the world."

Thomas Fagan, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the Division of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Farquhar College of Arts and Sciences, said Espinola participates in class discussions, does extra research, and shares her experiences and observations with other students."When she sets her mind to accomplishing something, nothing stands in her way," he said. That ability to work hard and fight for what she wants began in her childhood. At age nine, she wanted to get into a program that trained young journalists in Argentina. She was turned down because the program was for teenagers. Through perseverance, she sought out the training of a professional writer and was soon accepted into the program. She was published for the first time at the age of 10, and she was featured on three educational videos. She had a radio program at age 12, after training to make her voice sound older. But soon, she found journalism wasn’t enough. Her true calling was politics.

"When I was 12, I read books about military dictatorships, torture, rape, and violation of human rights," she said. "I wasn’t really old enough to read that sort of thing, and it affected me personally. I became determined to prevent that from happening." That determination shows through her involvement with the Student Coalition on Human Rights at NSU, which sponsors educational events on topics such as violence against women and human trafficking. "Sometimes the students come to get free food or because they get credit from their professors," she said. "They show up completely clueless, and I see them changing and getting involved by going to Africa or Haiti, and organizing events themselves." She also works through Facebook, asking others to sign a petition. Her page has 450 fans, and she has more than 2,000 Facebook friends. True to form, Espinola is looking ahead to the time after she receives her NSU degrees.

"My main concern is to make a significant difference in people’s lives," she said. "If I choose to do the work that most psychologists do, I will be able to help one person at a time. If I choose to use psychological knowledge to influence public policy, I will be able to help hundreds, thousands, or even millions."