Class of 2020: Transfer student Melody Guitz gains her footing as a leader
Melody Guitz transferred from Northern Virginia Community College to Virginia Commonwealth University in 2019, drawn by the diverse student body and urban setting. The Guatemala-born psychology student is driven to achieve academically and professionally as the first in her family to go to college, but it took a while for her to settle on a major.
“At first I thought I would study preschool education, then art therapy. I then thought I wanted to join the Air Force,” said Guitz, who is finishing her last semester at home in Fairfax County, Virginia, and will graduate in December from the College of Humanities and Sciences.
Guitz said she settled on psychology because it is a field that offers everything she wants to achieve. “I want to be able to help people, especially children. I want to be able to help minorities and the lower-class population that are the most [economically] depressed. I want to help communities and individuals that are at the bottom and that should be treated as equal as everybody else.”
While completing her final semester remotely, Guitz is working as a behavior technician in a behavior therapy facility, seeing children with autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“I love helping those communities and those individuals because they don't get a lot of support in the real world and maybe [are] looked down upon in some way,” Guitz said. “Just helping those communities brings me a lot of happiness because I'm changing [someone’s life].”
Guitz credits her sociology and psychology professors for pushing her to study the world around her, to critically investigate her field, herself as an individual and society as a whole. The city of Richmond functioned as a learning opportunity to look deeper into long-standing inequity and societal problems.
“VCU just pushes for inclusivity and diversity, making me think about society and helping me put all of that into what I think about psychology and the mental health industry,” she said.
Guitz found her footing at VCU in the Transfer Student Leadership Program, which helped her connect to other students.
“When I transferred into VCU it was really hard,” Guitz said. “It was very intimidating because I was coming to a new city and a new place where I had nothing other than myself. So that leadership program really helped me put my feet in the door and try to make me get involved rather than staying in my room and just being depressed or sad.”
Her involvement led her to attend the National Association for Campus Activities conference in May 2019 with a group of other VCU students. The trip to Texas was both fun and impactful, leading to a job with the VCU Office of Student Leadership and Civic Engagement as a Changemaker program assistant creating programs to help student leaders empower themselves. On the Texas trip, Guitz met other VCU transfer students who together decided to create a Transfer Student Association at VCU, which she said turned out to be the highlight of her university experience.
“Our mission was to just have a place for transfer students to be a part of a family, because there was no organization that did that,” Guitz said. “At VCU, I created things that I didn't know I could create. And Fred [Tugas, assistant director of student leadership and civic engagement] empowered all of us in that Changemaker program to push for things that haven't been done at VCU and to help us be inclusive in that environment.”
Guitz said the rewards of putting herself in scary social situations where she didn’t know anyone led to memorable experiences during her short time at VCU. She plans to stay in her current job as a behavior technician to gain experience in her field but is also exploring graduate school in the near future.
She said her identity as a first-generation Latina immigrant and university graduate is very important to her.
“It's definitely hard to be a Latina and live as a minority here in America, but it's also very empowering because you're pushed to do things that the world tells you is going to be hard for you,” Guitz said. “Once you accomplish it, you're like, ‘I did it!’”