Rosa Cuellar

Cal State LA graduate is dedicated to serving those with disabilities

The social work major draws on childhood lessons about service and resilience

Rosa Cuellar

By Maria Pogosyan | Cal State LA News Service

As a kid, Rosa Cuellar first learned about volunteering from watching her parents serve in their church and community. As a Cal State LA student, Cuellar discovered opportunities to continue the family tradition of helping others.

The university’s emphasis on service to the community made it a perfect fit for Cuellar, who pushed past her shyness and became a leader, contributing to the campus and her community.

In May, Cuellar is graduating cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Social Work from the Rongxiang Xu College of Health and Human Services. This fall, she will begin studies in the Master of Social Work program at Cal State Long Beach.

Cuellar’s story is one of service, success and resilience.

“When I came here, I thought, ‘I don’t just want to come here for [classroom learning]—I want more meaning,’” says Cuellar, 21, who resides in Downey. “I was able to be involved and be a part of the community.”

Cuellar’s interest in helping others evolved at Cal State LA into a decision to become a social worker focusing on people who have disabilities.

During an internship at EL ARCA, a Los Angeles center for individuals with developmental disabilities, Cuellar helped organize educational and fun activities to nurture a sense of community and help clients learn new skills.

“Doing that internship is what really inspired me more to do social work,” Cuellar says. “I had a population in mind that I wanted to work with and I have a connection with and can relate to.”

Cuellar was born with hearing loss, and at the age of 3 she received a cochlear implant that restored her hearing. For a time, she attended a private school for children who are hard of hearing. Her experiences at the school and her mother’s support at home enabled her to succeed academically.

While she was a student at Cal State LA, Cuellar returned to her old elementary school and volunteered with hard-of-hearing students. She connected with them through her experiences.

“I was able to tell the students about my story, and they were, like, ‘Oh, my God!’ They just liked me.”

At Cal State LA, Cuellar became president of the Association of Student Social Workers, a club that fosters support among its members and facilitates professional development. Under Cuellar’s leadership, attendance at meetings and participation in events increased.

Through her work with the group, Cuellar worked closely with Professor Ga-Young Choi, who served as advisor. Choi also teaches research, family violence and foundation social work courses.

“She helped a lot with the club,” Cuellar says of Choi. “She was always there for me.”

Cuellar also served as vice president for Tau Eta, a national social work honor society that recognizes students for their academic excellence and provides opportunities for volunteer services. With the group, Cuellar organized a range of service activities, including breast cancer and domestic violence awareness campaigns and work with people who have disabilities. She was on the Dean’s List for four semesters.

For Cuellar, the decision to embrace service to others in her search for meaningful experiences has paid off.

“I decided to say yes to Cal State LA and I don’t regret it,” Cuellar says. “It brought me a lot of choice, and I had a lot of good experiences here, professors and everything.”