A graduate student in school psychology and recipient of a Diversity Graduate Fellowship, Kimberlyn Fernéz has persisted in her academic career through a variety of challenges, and now is eager to work in schools to help other young students overcome their own tough times.

What's the background of your last name?

It's Belgian-French. Most people would think it's Spanish, because I'm half-Spanish -- Puerto Rican. I'm part Italian, too. I'm probably the least amount of French and Belgian.

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in the Bronx; my family is from the Bronx -- my grandparents migrated from Puerto Rico and Italy. When I was 8, we moved upstate to Orange County, in the suburbs. They wanted me to go to better schools.

Where did you go for your undergraduate college?

University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh. I wanted to get out of New York. I also knew some people from tennis camps who lived in Wisconsin. I studied psychology. Sociology was my minor. I was on the school's NCAA tennis team there for a couple of years. They were two separate years, because I had to get surgery on my ankle in between.

When did you decide to go to graduate school?

When I was a junior, I job-shadowed a school psychologist. Then, as a senior, I had a school psychology internship and also worked as an individualized youth mentor, which allowed me to work with kids with emotional and behavioral difficulties.  My parents and I felt it would be best to for me to go straight to graduate school to study school psychology. 

Why did you gravitate toward school psychology? 

I didn't have such a great experience in high school. They didn't help me that much when I had troubles. I wanted to help kids do better. I was diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) when I was 13. I'm not only "diverse" because I'm Hispanic and economically, but I had to deal with a lot of experiences that other students don't have to deal with, which made my education harder. I was severely bullied, as well. My parents moved me to another school. I wanted to be someone better, to be someone who actually listened to kids and helped them. I want to get into the schools and do bullying prevention. 

Why did you choose SUNY Oswego for school psychology?

I wanted to go back to my home state -- in-state tuition. (Laughs.) SUNY Oswego is one of the few schools (in SUNY) that even has school psychology. School psychologists get trained for K-12, but I knew I wanted to work with teenagers -- middle schoolers or high schoolers. 

How did you learn about the Diversity Graduate Fellowship program

Dr. (Laura) Spenceley, who is a professor in school psych and now works as the associate dean in Graduate Studies, said I should apply. She knew about my background, because she admitted me into the program and I had submitted written statements. I was late for the fellowship (in that cycle) for the spring of 2016, because I was thinking of staying in Wisconsin. But that summer, I got an email and a phone call and they said, "We have extra funding. We read your essay and you sound like a great candidate. Would you like this?' And I said, "Yeah, of course I do! That's amazing -- thank you." It kind of felt like I won the lottery there. It helps quite a bit.

When did you start at SUNY Oswego?

I started here in the summer of 2016. Unfortunately, there was a little (scheduling) bump in the road last year. I have a lot of support from Dr. Spenceley and Dr. Eichhorn (Graduate Dean Kristen Eichhorn). I'm in practicum now in Millard Hawk Elementary School in Central Square with the school psychologist. Also, I work part time at the in-patient unit, Behavioral Health, in Oswego Hospital. I will work in a yearlong internship next year.

What do you think of the professors at SUNY Oswego?

In general, they're very supportive -- Dr. Spenceley especially. She's my advisor. Most professors are very down to earth. The workload can be tough, but it's on purpose -- it's meaningful. They're always willing to meet with you. 

What has been your favorite course, the one that engaged you the most? 

I'd say two of them. My counseling practicum and the behavior and learning class that I took with Dr. Spenceley. The part I enjoy most in school psychology is counseling and behavior intervention -- the mental health parts.

What are key takeaways from your practicums?

From counseling, I found that, yes, you do have to do interventions, but building rapport is the most important thing. Kids won't want to work with you or make changes or do anything unless you build good rapport. In school psychology, you can have everything organized and planned out to a "T," but you need to be flexible. Things are going to change, and that's got to be OK. 

Can you share advice for other middle school through college students with OCD?

Seek support, no matter what. As a kid, I wasn't always willing. I was in denial -- I didn't want to believe I was different from anyone. Understand that you are not alone. When you're young, you think it's very rare and that a spotlight is on you. If you seek a support group, you find that it's common. OCD doesn't need to be stigmatizing; it's something that other people have.

What other activities do you have on campus?

I had wanted to try (to play on) the NCAA tennis team -- I thought I had two years of eligibility left. The coach was excited, but looked into it and found that because I have over 10 semesters of school, I don't have any eligibility left. OK, I had to figure out a way I could play tennis without driving all the way to Syracuse. So I helped coach the Tennis Club last year and this year. This year, I also joined rugby -- all with nerve damage in my ankle and my leg. I just wanted to show people that even if it's hard, you can still do it if you try. It's an amazing group of girls; they're going to regionals in Ohio this weekend and they are one of the top eight teams in the nation. I can't play in an official game due to eligibility, but I practice with them and help out in any ways I can.

What interests do you have off-campus?

Tennis is my main one -- I've been playing it forever. I was always an athletic kid. I'm always trying new things. I have to keep in shape -- I had a second surgery on my ankle in January. Even though it hurts to work my ankle, I have to do it, because if I don't it's going to get worse. I try to do things where I keep going, keep moving, keep social.

What else can you tell us about your family?

My parents are in Chester, Orange County. My grandma, aunt and uncle, and extended family are in the Bronx, Connecticut, Long Island. My dad has been a manager at Verizon. My mom never got the opportunity to go to college. She had to start working to support her mom and her brother. She works for my old tennis coach as a front-desk receptionist at Match Point Tennis.