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UTRGV School of Medicine graduate assistant Laboy brings military experience to her job

By Cheryl Taylor

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS – JUNE 22, 2016 – Brownsville native Arlene Laboy, a graduate assistant to Dr. Eugenia Curet, assistant dean for Student Support, Counseling and Wellness at the UTRGV School of Medicine, first caught Curet’s eye three years ago, when she was an undergraduate student at UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College.

Arlene Laboy Brownsville native Arlene Laboy, graduate assistant to Dr. Eugenia Curet, assistant dean for Student Support, Counseling and Wellness at the UTRGV School of Medicine, is actively involved in veterans affairs and has established Veteran Females United, a student organization that is now open to the public, focused on engaging and empowering female veterans to lead healthy, successful lives. (UTRGV Photo by David Pike)

Laboy was assisting Brownsville-area veterans as a peer facilitator with BEITZ (Bring Everyone In The Zone), a non-profit that provides education and support to service members, veterans and families affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Dr. Curet hired me at Student Health Services to work with student female veterans, to establish a support group of female vets,” Laboy said. “It was a successful program. We held regular sessions and, with my BEITZ training, I was a group co-facilitator with one of the licensed social workers at Student Health Services.”

Now halfway to earning a Master of Social Work, Laboy is working with Curet on a project in preparation for the School of Medicine’s first cohort of 55 students, who start class in July.

“I’m gathering information to create a handy resource guide, in both print and online, that our future medical students may need from time to time,” she said. “It also will have helpful resources for medical students’ family members.”

The guide includes material on subjects such as suicide prevention, time management, physical fitness, stress relievers, ways to support fellow medical students in distress and how to file complaints.

“The new medical students will be experiencing so many changes and challenges, just as veterans do when they separate from the military,” Laboy said. “Having access to information, resources and support is critical to a successful start in a new life chapter.”

Curet said Laboy is one of the most selfless people she has ever known.

“She is a great role model, not only for other female veterans but for all our university students,” Curet said. “At a time when we were having the first numbers of female veteran students who were struggling with emotional issues and adjustment to civilian life and the university, her commitment to support them was invaluable.”

Now 29, Laboy spent seven years in the U.S. Army (2005–2012), having signed up after graduating from Brownsville’s Pace High School. She was assigned to the 76th Engineer Company of the 19th Engineer Battalion out of Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was deployed with her company to southern Afghanistan from April 2009 until April 2010.

Laboy earned her associate’s degree while she was in the Army. Then she enrolled at UT Brownsville/Texas Southmost College to complete her last two years, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology in December 2014.

WORKING WITH VETERANS

While working with Dr. Curet in Student Health Services, Laboy established Veteran Females United, a student organization.

“We realized we were unable to reach out to female veterans who were not students, so we reorganized to open it up to the community,” she said. “It took some time, but I am pleased to say we achieved our 501(c)(3) nonprofit status in March of this year.”

Veteran Females United welcomes female veterans, spouses and dependents of veterans. Laboy said its mission is “to engage and empower female veterans to lead healthy successful lives by providing ongoing guidance and support to them and their families.”

Veteran Females United has been working with Pinkerton Memorials on a project for about a year and a half that is nearing fruition – a memorial to women veterans, to be placed in Brownsville’s Veterans Memorial Park on Central Boulevard.

“The statue will be a universal soldier that all female veterans will be able to identify with,” Laboy said. “She is meant to represent all the sacrifices, courage and commitment that female veterans have made for our country.”

The unveiling of the statue will take place at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 25.

Laboy graduates in spring 2017 with an MSW.

“I have learned so much already, and with every day I gain more knowledge,” she said. “At this point, I don’t know exactly what my focus will be, but that will become clearer over the next year. Most certainly, it will involve working with veterans and their families in some capacity.”

MEDIA CONTACTS
Marci.Caltabiano@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of News and Internal Communications
956-665-2742
Jennifer.McGehee@UTRGV.edu UTRGV Director of Public Relations
956-882-5105