Professor Liana Calderin with her family.

Embracing Challenge to Help Build the Future

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When her students experience intimidation or doubt, Professor Liana Calderin encourages them by saying, “The sky will always be blue. Everything else that happens is just bad weather that will pass. When you wake up tomorrow, the sky will still be blue.”

As a Hodges University alumna, she is familiar with the feelings of doubt and intimidation, especially as someone who knew very little English upon her arrival. A native of Cuba, Calderin moved to the United States in June 2006 with her mother and grandmother. Settling in Southwest Florida, she learned of Hodges through friends who attended the English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Its small class sizes and convenient schedules led her to enroll in Hodges’ ESL program that fall.

“Arriving in the U.S. was a huge change. The society was very welcoming, yet, it was still very dramatic. In Cuba, I didn’t have to worry about paying bills; however, once in the U.S., that changed,” she said.

Liana Calderin and Riva WhartonFinding work at a local Cuban restaurant, she did not arrive home until 1:00 a.m., which meant little sleep before class at 8:00 a.m. Immersing herself in the English language, she applied for a position at Olive Garden. “I memorized the menu so I could pass the exam, but I still had a difficult time understanding some of the customers when I was serving,” she said. Discovering her colleague, Frank, was Cuban, she asked her supervisor to pair her with him so he could help her to understand the requests of some customers. The pairing was so successful, the two are now married and both teach at Hodges.

Continuing beyond the ESL program, she enrolled in the health studies bachelor’s program, minoring in psychology. Faced with a difficult psychology professor who did not embrace the idea of a diverse student population, she met Riva Wharton, one of Hodges’ librarians, who provided encouragement and reassurance throughout Calderin’s undergraduate studies.

liana-calderin-with-husband-frank-and-dr-hofmannHowever, it wasn’t just Wharton she turned to for help. She also sought the expertise of Dr. Tom Hofmann. “Dr. Hofmann is like my adoptive father. He’s my mentor and my confidant,” she said. During the last semester of her undergraduate studies, she participated in a direct study with him, saying, “He has so much knowledge. I am convinced he can look at a person and know what it is they are going to do, so he doesn’t give advice. He just lets them see what it is they want to do with their own eyes.”

Graduating with her bachelor’s in 2011, she enrolled in the newly created clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) graduate program. “Many of the students in the program had bachelor’s degrees in psychology. I didn’t, so I felt very behind at times,” she said.

Once again, she decided to immerse herself in something outside her comfort zone and accepted a position at Lutheran Services of Florida working with children and families in need, as well as with the Department of Juvenile Justice.

As internships are a requirement within the CMHC program, in September 2013, Calderin interned with Abuse Counseling & Treatment (ACT) in Fort Myers, Florida. Offered a job two weeks after beginning her internship, she accepted.

“During my internship, I helped to develop a dialectical behavior therapy program for victims of domestic violence,” she explained.

Graduating with her CMHC degree in 2014, she was extended an offer by Hofmann to serve as his research assistant for a project he was working on regarding mental health services for children in Lee and Collier counties. While the formal assistantship lasted only one semester, the two continue to work on the project. In addition, Calderin continues her work at ACT, working with victims of human trafficking, sexual assault and domestic abuse, saying, “ACT clients bring happiness to my life because I feel that I am helping them to improve their lives. I play a role in their emotional healing, and I like to see them grow both personally and professionally. I see myself always connected to this organization.”

In addition to her work at ACT, Calderin is working on her certification to become a play therapist. Her desire to work with children has inspired her to pursue a bachelor’s in nursing, saying, “My goal is to one day have a private practice where I can work in pediatrics and mental health. I want to help build future generations.”

Liana Calderin with Applied Psychology StudentsWhile her work at ACT and pursuit of a nursing degree keep her busy, she also works as a student nurse at Lee Memorial and as an adjunct faculty member at Hodges. Accepting the adjunct psychology position, she started teaching in summer 2016, which puts her in a unique position, moving from student to teacher in such a short time.

“My students tell me they appreciate how I teach. I can easily connect with my students because I was in their place not so long ago,” she said. Admitting getting her students to read is one of the most challenging aspects of the job, she is very clear in what it is she wants and expects, saying, “Teaching is my passion, which I do it out of love more than anything else. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity, and I cannot think of a better place to teach than Hodges. I love our university code of ethics and all the great resources we offer to students in order to meet their needs.” Calderin also explained her appreciation for the university’s diversity efforts, saying, “I absolutely love the fact that we truly embrace diversity, and we see the student as unique individuals. I do not know of any other school that offers as many resources as Hodges, including the Bridge Program, individualized tutoring, one-to-one with your professors and a great dean of students. Hodges has offered me so much professional and personal growth that it feels like home.”

As a bilingual student herself, and seeing many bilingual students not only in the CMHC program but in Hodges’ ESL program, she encourages the current research being done by CMHC faculty to provide better instruction to bilingual students looking to pursue bilingual therapy. “I feel Hodges is doing a great job of raising awareness to the need for bilingual therapists. In this community, once you become a therapist, there is a strong possibility your clientele will not be native English speakers,” she said.

Although immersed in a profession requiring long hours and little sleep, she embraces the challenge and encourages others to do so as well. “Don’t be afraid. Believe me, I know how intimidating it can be to start something new, in a new place. We all have doubts, but don’t let those doubts get the best of you. The secret, at least for me, is to enjoy everything you do. I go to ACT, Lee Memorial and Hodges hoping to do what I like, have fun when possible, and more importantly, do the best I can. You can only do that if you have your heart invested, too.”

While her heart is invested in her work during the day, in the evenings, her family brings her back to what she considers “her heaven.” “Every day, I look forward to seeing my children smiling, to have my husband’s hug, which is my reassurance that everything will be fine, and to talk to my friends and family who play a major role as my support system. Then, right before going to bed, I think about my day and I feel proud that I have done something meaningful. To me, that is the taste of success.”