Outstanding Islander Graduate Renita Newton ’19, ’23 earns Ph.D. in Counselor Education as First-Gen Student

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — When asked what inspired Outstanding Islander Graduate Renita Newton ’19, ’23, to choose to study counseling, she mused, “Actually, I feel like the field of counseling chose me!”

Although the adversity that Newton faced in her life could be too overwhelming for many to bear, Newton has met each challenge head on, achieving incredible academic success on the way and is graduating with her Ph.D. in Counselor Education from Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. She will take part in the Fall 2023 Commencement Ceremony on Saturday, Dec. 16, as the Outstanding Islander Graduate for the College of Education and Human Development.

“My path into this field consisted of an array of various, adverse life experiences and interactions with diverse groups of people, all of whom helped shape me into the mental health professional that I am today,” Newton said. “I have learned from my own experiences that folks just want to be seen, heard, validated, and supported.”

The eldest of three children, Newton was forced to grow up quickly in the face of family tragedy; at age 14, her mother passed away, and her father was incarcerated during this time.

“There was a lot of neglect, and it was extremely challenging, but I knew my younger siblings were counting on me, so I refused to throw in the towel,” said Newton, a native of Hammond, Louisiana.  

By age 15, Newton was working late nights to support her twin brother and sister, often arriving home after 2 a.m. on school nights. Although she finished high school, there was never any expectation that she would pursue a college education.

“If we managed to graduate high school, we were considered to have done well for ourselves,” she said. “There was never any discussion of college, but I always felt I was called to do more.”

She credits her high school counselors with encouraging her to apply for college. She earned a Bachelor of General Studies in Applied Behavioral Sciences from Southeastern Louisiana University in 2014.

“Navigating undergraduate college life was an overwhelming experience. I worked three jobs while studying full time and missed out on the familial support — financial, mental, emotional — that many students benefit from. I felt like I didn’t belong,” Newton said. “I am grateful for the struggles, for they have aided in much of my graduate school success. I am very proud to be a first-generation student who excelled, defying all odds, and who simply decided to go for it.”

Fortunately, Newton’s time on the Island — seven years to be exact — has been met with nothing but support for her considerable talents.

“I was searching for a master’s program that aligned with my beliefs and values, one that would challenge and empower me to be the best I could be,” Newton said. “I could feel in my heart that Texas A&M-Corpus Christi was where I wanted and needed to be, and my very positive experiences as a Master of Counseling student only reinforced my decision to undertake my doctoral studies here.”

She earned her master’s degree from TAMU-CC in 2019. Now, as both an Islander doctoral student and staff member at the University Counseling Center (UCC), Newton has dedicated herself to making an Islander Impact of positivity, inclusivity, and support.

“I always try to leave individuals better than I found them,” she said. “I take pride in being able to lift others up, providing them with a dose of optimism and reassurance when they might need it the most. It is a beautiful feeling to know that I get to be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud.”

Over the past seven years, Newton has volunteered at countless campus activities. She has also served as vice president and president of the Theta Alpha Mu Chapter of Chi Sigma Iota and contributed her talents to the successful acquisition of a grant for the university’s inaugural Wellness Expo. As a counseling professional, both in private practice and with the UCC, Newton has facilitated self-care activities, spoken on self-compassion practices, and worked to support students.

“Renita is a growing professional and compassionate advocate for mental health services and inclusion of marginalized community members who regularly experience disparities in access to quality care,” said Dr. Richard Ricard, TAMU-CC Associate Dean and Professor of Counselor Education. “I have no doubt that she will continue to move the needle on important topics of inclusion that impact the lives and well-being of so many people. Her perseverance through personal losses and professional difficulties has minted and prepared her for a professional vocation that needs role models like her so desperately.”

The next phase in Newton’s career journey will see her continuing her work at the UCC and as an adjunct faculty member, as well as working with community members in private practice. She also plans to continue her research, which includes exploring the effectiveness of utilizing mindfulness-based interventions across multidisciplinary programs.  

“During my time on the Island, I have learned to embrace challenges and see them as new opportunities for growth,” Newton said. “Now, I walk into rooms with my head held high and I take up space unapologetically. I have become friends with the darkest parts of myself, allowing these aspects into the light so that I could not simply survive, but thrive.”