Senior pursues goals with out-of-the-box thinking, takes new opportunity

  • Wichita State senior Rick Rangel has spent the last year working at Cloud 9 Therapeutic Equine Foundation for his social work practicum.

  • He was awarded the Bright Future award from WSU Ventures for his out-of-the-box thinking in finding the opportunity.

  • Rangel plans to continue his education by pursuing a master's degree at WSU.

Wichita State University awards out of-the-box thinking, and for social work senior Rick Rangel, it was this kind of thinking that changed his perspective on social work and won him the Bright Future award from WSU Ventures.

As an Army veteran, Rangel wanted to find a practicum that allowed him to give back to that community. During his search he found that most work with veterans required master's level students for practicum work.

“I thought, ‘OK, how else can I work with veterans?'” says Rangel. “They said I would have to find something and I'm glad I did. I've met some great people – other veterans – and learned their stories.”

Rangel found his opportunity when he attended a Veteran Provider's Coalition of Sedgwick County (VPCSC) meeting with Sarah Sell, director of WSU's Veteran Student Services. A representative from Cloud 9 Therapeutic Equine Foundation presented at the meeting, and Rangel was immediately interested.

Since beginning his practicum work at the ranch, Rangel has had the opportunity to work with veterans and children and adults with cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. The activities are designed to help loosen joints and strengthen muscles, while providing an opportunity for veterans to interact and socialize.

“The gait of a horse mimics the gait of a person walking, so as the horse strides it helps loosen the joints without you doing anything,” says Rangel. “But you use a lot of muscles riding a horse that you don't use regularly, so it helps strengthen those.”

In his time there, Rangel has seen significant improvement in people who have come to the ranch.

“We have one young man who came out and couldn't walk at all, but he could crawl a bit, and now he walks with a walker,” says Rangel. “One woman who came grew up as a rider, but after several surgeries she never thought she would ride again. Now she does.”

There is a lot of research showing how beneficial the interaction with horses is, but Rangel has been able to see it firsthand. Cloud 9 is one of the few programs that does trail rides -- most only do grooming and petting.

In addition to helping with trail rides and activities, Rangel also manages the social media for the ranch. He hopes to continue volunteering with Cloud 9 when his practicum is over and is excited to see how he can apply what he's learned there to his future.

“It's opened up my eyes to how well social work can be used outside of the traditional setting,” he says. “It's also allowed me to see what it's like to be a small business owner, and it's allowed me to get outside and enjoy nature with the horses and veterans we work with.”

Rangel plans to continue his education by pursuing a master's degree at Wichita State.