‘A Sense of Meaning’ At W&L, Lorena Terroba Urruchua ’21 found her purpose — helping people with disabilities — at the intersection of psychology, Romance Languages and poverty studies.
“I want to work in an international setting with a nonprofit focused on advocacy and resources to expand inclusion of people with disabilities, which would allow me to mix the three passions I have developed through each of my respective areas of studies.”
~ Lorena Terroba Urruchua ’21
Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico, and San Antonio, Texas
Majors: Cognitive and Behavioral Science, Romance Languages
Minor: Poverty Studies
Q: What factors led you to attend W&L?
My college search was not what you’d expect. Given that the only people in my family to have attended college in the U.S. were my siblings, I had little exposure to how the process worked and went through it somewhat blindly.
I was lucky to receive an email from W&L and decided there was no loss in applying. I graduated a semester early from high school and moved back to Mexico City to volunteer, and while living there, I received another email from W&L inviting me to Johnson Weekend. I didn’t want to leave Mexico to go visit, but thanks to my parents, I did and loved every second of it. I loved the small class sizes (my high school was about 800 people per grade) and the fact I could study a variety of subjects in an interdisciplinary setting. I also loved that everyone was friendly and seemed to be interested in what mine and other prospective students’ stories were.
On the surface it came down to being lucky enough to receive the Johnson Scholarship, but when really breaking that down, it was more about all the opportunities that I knew Johnson and Washington and Lee would open up for me.
Q: Why study cognitive and behavioral science (CBSC), Romance languages and poverty at W&L, and what do you hope to do with your education?
Since 8th grade, I have known I want to work in some capacity with the community of people with disabilities, but it wasn’t until academic fair my freshman year that I realized I was also passionate about languages and communication more broadly. Through studying CBSC, I was able to focus on the academic and scientific aspect and effects of diagnoses such as autism or cerebral palsy that many friends of mine have. Through Romance languages, I was able to dive deeper into my Spanish and learn French, which I felt would allow me to learn about how disabilities are approached and accepted in different countries and cultures. Also, through studying languages, I have developed an appreciation for various communications styles and how communication (not just verbal) is the basis for building meaningful relationships with others. This has empowered me to seek out as many international opportunities as I can find.
Through poverty and human capability studies, these two majors have found a sense of meaning together. The pov program’s focus on respecting the dignity of every human being has really driven how I hope to engage with both CBSC and Romance languages in a future career. I want to work in an international setting with a nonprofit focused on advocacy and resources to expand inclusion of people with disabilities, which would allow me to mix the three passions I have developed through each of my respective areas of studies. Ideally, I want to continue working with Special Olympics, but I am excited to see what other doors W&L leads me to.
Q: Tell us about your involvement with the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center in Rockbridge County. Why do you enjoy working there?
The one thing I was sure about when looking for a university was that I wanted to continue working with the community of people with autism, as I had done this all throughout high school. When I first visited W&L, Marisa Charley mentioned the Bonner Program, and along with it, the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center (BRAAC), and I was hooked. I knew I wanted both of those things to form a part of my short time in the Rockbridge and Lexington community.
I started working with BRAAC my first semester freshman year and will continue to do so through my last semester. This past semester, I pivoted from working directly with students to doing my capstone project with BRAAC, which culminated with the creation of an intern training manual to be used in all of their locations. I have worked with the same student my whole time there and made a lot of meaningful relationships with both students and staff at BRAAC, which is my favorite part about it. Working at BRAAC has made Lexington feel more like a home because I have made friends outside of just our campus. I feel tied to the larger community and am extremely grateful for the ways in which BRAAC has poured its energy into me and my own growth in these four years of college.
Q: What did you gain from your first-year poverty internship in Puerto Morelos, Mexico?
My poverty internship was the first moment on campus where I felt that my diversity (being from Mexico and being fluent in Spanish) was not just accepted but valued and celebrated. I was asked, along with five other students, to help pioneer an internship with the Bachilleres High School and the local community. We created an English class open to the whole community in their local municipal library and had a wide range of students, including 10-year-old kids, local law enforcement officers, and even an 80-year-old woman. It was great experience in building relationships with our students as well as working with the local government.
Although the focus of this internship was an English class, what made it most impactful were the conversations I was able to have about disabilities with a community that was unfamiliar to me at the time. I noticed that at the only local high school, there were no students with disabilities, yet most people in the town knew of adolescents with disabilities. This opened up my curiosity for how various cultures approach and accept disabilities in education or more generally and inspired me to seek out these kinds of conversations in other study abroad opportunities, which I was later able to do in France and Spain.
Q: How did time in France during your sophomore year contribute to your W&L experience?
I had heard of a place called The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes in Lourdes, France, a couple of years prior to W&L, and when I heard I could take French at school, I knew this was a place I needed to visit. I took some French classes in Paris for a month to practice and get ready to join my volunteer group in Lourdes for the second month. What I learned in my time there was mainly about being flexible and adaptable. Given that a good part of my life I have been able to communicate fluently in two languages, being in France and being the person who couldn’t fully contribute or had to consistently ask for clarification provided me with the opportunity to be much more patient and appreciative when others find themselves in that position. This doesn’t only apply to language, however. Within my W&L experience, it has led me to be more appreciative of hearing where people come from and the vulnerability that others have to place themselves in to share their experiences with you.
Q: How did COVID-19 impact your Winter Term last year?
During Winter Term last year, I was studying in Barcelona, Spain. When COVID-19 started picking up speed in February, we knew the semester would look a bit different, but I never really expected to be sent home with less than 12 hours’ notice. I had just returned from visiting some family in Switzerland when I was awakened by my roommate, who told me we needed to pack up because we had to go home in mid-March. Finishing up my semester online looked a little bit different when all my classes were in Central European Standard Time and each student in the class found themselves in different parts of the world. Looking back, however, I am very grateful that I was able to make the best of the two months I was there, and I look forward to going back to Spain as soon as I have the chance to do so.
Q: Has anyone served as a mentor to you at W&L?
CBSC Professor Karla Murdock has been my mentor since I took her Pursuit of Happiness course Spring Term of my freshman year. Learning about positive psychology and partnering with the Eagle’s Nest to make a community mural focused on recovery has been the most impactful experience I have had at W&L.
After that course, I started working in her Technology and Health Lab and eventually asked her to be my advisor for both CBSC and poverty studies. Professor Murdock is passionate about her coursework in clinical psychology, which interested me, but she is even more passionate about helping students find a path that makes them excited, and also about building relationships with the community outside of just campus. Her Applications of Psychology course was focused on finding people’s strengths and how to use ours in a way that makes us excited about our future careers. Her ability to see others’ strengths and empower them to see those strengths in themselves is a skill that I hope to cultivate in all facets of my life.
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More about Lorena
What is your personal motto or favorite saying?
“Do small things with great love.”
– Mother Theresa
What’s your favorite shop or restaurant in Lexington?
My favorite restaurant is TAPS.
What do you get there?
I always get a cup of chili and their simple salad, add blue cheese, and of course, a side of fries!
What’s your favorite spot on campus?
W&L’s Campus Kitchen.
What book or film do you recommend to everyone?
“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime” by Mark Haddon
Favorite W&L event?
The Souper Bowl is my favorite event because it brings together members of W&L and the greater Rockbridge community for the same cause.
Favorite place you’ve ever been?
My favorite place in the world is Lourdes, France, and I cannot wait to go back.