New grad to make a difference with degree in exercise, sports science
By Mary Kincy
“My parents always told me, ‘Just do what you love,’ and I like being around people — I like helping others,” he says. With that affinity in mind, Bernal plans a future built around occupational therapy, even if the path he will walk to arrive at that destination is up in the air. Bernal plans to attend a graduate program — site unknown — in 2012; meanwhile, he’s casting about for leads on a relevant internship. Eventually, he hopes to land a job working in a physical rehabilitation center with individuals who have experienced traumatic injuries, mental health problems and other disabilities.
Bernal’s aspirations were formed while at Texas State, to which he transferred after a year spent at Austin Community College, in his hometown. In coming to San Marcos, he followed in the footsteps of his older brother, J.C. Bernal, who graduated with a degree in recreation administration in 2009.
At the university, an appreciation for the satisfaction derived from helping others that Bernal realized after a stint working at a summer camp commingled with the undergraduate’s love of sports. Then, when Bernal began to reflect on the plight of a person in his life — he prefers not to identify exactly who that person is — with severe arthritis and no means of pursuing the treatment, the alumnus-to-be realized he could combine his passions in pursuit of a career: occupational therapy.
Along the way, Bernal developed an abiding empathy for those with physical afflictions — and a desire to be the person to help them regain their independence.
“In general, it could be anyone who, for whatever reason, can’t do the things they need or want to do,” Bernal explains. “Life is a blessing and being involved with occupational therapy will allow me to combine my interest in physical and mental health with my desire to work in an environment that focuses on what is important to the client — living an independent life to the fullest.”
Bernal says lessons he learned at Texas State, in addition to guiding him to his chosen career path, also are helping him to pursue it. Early in his time at the university, Bernal joined the Hispanic Business Student Association. At first, he had no idea what function the organization served. He soon found out.
“Basically, it helps you learn all the things you’ll need to know in a professional career,” Bernal says. “Everything from résumés to food etiquette.” He also found a work-study position in the Office of University Marketing, where he answered phones, filed paperwork and greeted incoming traffic. Bernal says he acquired skill in public speaking and beyond during his years of work-study.
“It gave me a good insight into the atmosphere of a working environment,” he says, preparing him to better understand the challenges of professional life. It also kept him aware of and involved in campus life — something Bernal says is essential to a positive collegiate experience.
“Be active,” he recommends. “Usually, most people say college will be the best years of your life. School can be stressful, irritating and hard, but when it’s all over most people will say they miss it — I’m going to miss it.”