Gabby Fuentes doesn’t know the meaning of a missed opportunity. During her orientation weekend at The Catholic University of America three years ago, Fuentes had the chance to meet William Rainford, dean of the National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS). As a first-year Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) student, Fuentes knew she had to introduce herself right away.

"It’s not enough to think, ‘how can I advance?’ You have to also ask yourself, ‘how can I help those around me to advance?’"
–Gabby Fuentes

“Gabby is a great networker,” Rainford laughed, recalling the incident.

Fuentes’s determination, intelligence, and enthusiasm stayed with Rainford past orientation weekend. He was on the lookout for savvy undergraduates to work in the Consortium for Catholic Social Teaching, the research arm of NCSSS, and mentioned Fuentes to the director of the consortium’s Center for Health and Mental Well-Being.

Fuentes had spent time in high school working with a nonprofit organization seeking to end teenage dating abuse and had experience in the mental health world. The director paired her with Assistant Professor Eileen Dombo, who was chair of the BSW program at the time.

“As a freshman, Gabby went well beyond my expectations for a research assistant,” said Dombo. “She got it right away.”

Currently a junior, Fuentes has worked on and off as an undergraduate research assistant, officially called a center assistant, for the past three years. Last year, NCSSS selected her as one of only three undergraduates to attend the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE) annual spring conference in Denver, Colo. Impressed with her engagement in the conference, NCSSS selected Fuentes to attend the CSWE fall 2016 conference in Atlanta as well.

Fuentes described attending the conferences as a “huge nerd moment” for her.

“I loved every part of the conferences,” she said. “The research presentations I sat in on were incredibly interesting and insightful to not only my research for NCSSS faculty, but also for my future career as a social worker.”

In addition to her studies and responsibilities as a center assistant, Fuentes is involved in several service organizations on campus, among them the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity, the So Others May Eat (S.O.M.E.) Club, and the DREAM Team, which organizes campus-wide discussions on divisive issues like race and privilege in an effort to foster campus unity. Fuentes says she serves because it’s her responsibility as an educated person.

“I think that you as a student, someone who is preparing to go out and contribute to the world, you have a responsibility to make sure your generation values respect for others. It’s not enough to think, ‘how can I advance?’ You have to also ask yourself, ‘how can I help those around me to advance?’ I am looking forward to becoming a social worker, because at the end of the day, I think everyone deserves respect and dignity.”