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Texas Tech Facilities Help Counseling Grad Student Pursue Mental Health

May 13, 2024

Texas Tech Facilities Help Counseling Grad Student Pursue Mental Health

The Leisure Pool offers fun in the sun, and for Jeff Bozarth, that’s serious business.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. If you're experiencing mental health distress, Texas Tech has resources available at Beyond Okay.

May can be a challenging time. The end of the spring semester is approaching, bringing with it the stress of final exams and, for many, graduation. It's also a time when summer is calling, and we begin looking for ways to relax and unwind. 

If you spent any time at Texas Tech University's Leisure Pool last summer, you might have noticed Jeff Bozarth. He'd be hard to miss, to be honest. He's the one everyone is watching. 

Jeff Bozarth doing the splits off the diving board.
Jeff Bozarth

It's not just his magnetic personality, although it helps that he easily strikes up conversations with total strangers. What really catches attention is that, between yoga poses on the pool deck, he's making crazy back flips off the diving board.

Even in a place where most people are enjoying themselves, Jeff's energy and positivity stand out. 

However, that wasn't always the case. 

‘A rough time'

Jeff grew up in Waco and, from his earliest days, his future was pretty well decided.

“My mom, dad, brother and sister-in-law all have degrees from Texas A&M,” he says. “We have had season football tickets for over 40 years. My whole life, I knew one day I would wear an Aggie ring.

“My opinion of Lubbock and Texas Tech was, at one time, pretty venomous. I remember when Mike Leach used to beat up on us every once in a while, and there was definitely a rivalry between the two schools back in the old days.”

After getting his bachelor's degree in communication and media studies in 2004, he began a career in sales and marketing. 

“I will say, the rivalry never really died here in Lubbock,” he laughs. “I started to notice that when I began meeting my wife's friends and family. They are all diehard Texas Tech fans and could not believe that Shayla fell for an Aggie. I don't know if they were teasing her or me.”

Interestingly, Jeff and Shayla's relationship may never have happened without the involvement of two Texas Tech alumni.

“My wife and I met in Waco at the Margarita and Salsa Festival where two of our favorite Red Raiders, Wade Bowen and William Clark Green, were playing,” Jeff recalls. “I was in the VIP section and Shayla was just across the fence in general admission. She noticed me singing along with the band and having a good time, and I noticed her smiling at me.”

Shayla, who'd grown up in the Panhandle, came to Lubbock in 2005 to attend Lubbock Christian University, and she never left. After her 2009 graduation with a bachelor's degree in general communication, she gravitated toward jobs that involved caring for others. She worked as a day care teacher; a youth prevention specialist with the Hub City Outreach Center; and an independent living specialist with LIFE Inc., serving individuals with disabilities. Since May 2022, she's been teaching at Texas Tech's Burkhart Center for Autism Education & Research.

Jeff's industries had changed over the years – first roofing, then machine lubrication, then construction – but his sales roles had stayed fairly consistent. Because Jeff's jobs had all been based in Waco, and Shayla's in Lubbock, they were trying to make a long-distance relationship work. 

To put it bluntly, Jeff was struggling.

“I was going through a rough time,” he says. “My family has a history of mental illness, and I have had minor struggles of my own.” 

Even today, Jeff's mental health struggles are difficult for him to talk about, so he understands why so many people hesitate to seek help when they need to. But he also recognized what he was doing wasn't working.

“Thankfully, I was able to get the help I needed,” he reflects. “My counselor did not fit the stereotype I had. He was a middle-aged Navy veteran who rode a Harley and dressed the part. He was just what I needed. He challenged me to face my issues head on and would not allow me to BS myself. I have found that when we are open and honest, there is room for real growth.”

Jeff's counselor helped him realize one problem he was facing was a growing dissatisfaction with his career. After 15 years in sales and marketing, he began to consider what else he could do with his life.

“I wanted to help people the same way my counselor helped me,” he recalls. “I love people, and you would be surprised at how many transferable skills there are between sales and counseling.”

A potential career shift also seemed like an opportune time to move to Lubbock to be closer to Shayla, so Jeff began researching options here. He found the nationally accredited Counselor Education – Clinical Mental Health Counseling master's program in Texas Tech's College of Education.

The program prepares students for a wide range of careers, including substance abuse counseling, mental health counseling, career counseling, grief and loss counseling and more.

“It wasn't long before I packed my bags and prepared to become a Red Raider,” he said, smiling. 

A transformation

For a born-and-raised Aggie, Lubbock came as something of a shock. And most unexpected of all was Texas Tech.

“What surprised me the most was the university,” Jeff says. “It is incredible. The students, faculty and staff are all top-notch. To be honest, it reminds me a lot of A&M. There is a lot of passion at this school.”

That said, he initially felt like something of an outsider because he didn't know many people. However, after his first semester, he started to get into the flow of things.

“The rec center was a huge part of that,” he says. 

You see, Jeff had undergone weight loss surgery in the spring of 2022. Once 375 pounds, he knew he needed it for his physical health. But in the two years since, he's lost more than 150 pounds – and the transformation hasn't just been in his physique.

“I began by attending yoga classes and the sauna,” he notes. “Working out is a huge part of my self-care regimen. It helps me stay in a good place, not only physically but mentally as well.” 

Jeff participating in yoga classes. Jeff participating in yoga classes.

His newfound routine helped him throughout the fall and spring semesters, but then summer rolled around. With fewer yoga classes offered in the summer, Jeff was looking for something else to do. He wandered out to the Leisure Pool.

“One day I just decided to jump off the diving board for fun,” he shrugs. “I grew up going to the pool and diving, but it had been a long time since I'd found a pool with a good diving board. 

“I realized after about an hour and dozens of dives that I had gotten as good a workout as I needed.”

He decided to come back the next day. And the next.

“I made a commitment to try and come dive every day,” he explains. 

Jeff mid-dive.

“When I began, I could barely do a front flip. Then, slowly but surely, I started trying new things. Now I can do a ton of stuff. The back flips are probably the most popular.”

Over the course of last summer, Jeff built a following.

“Diving is so much fun, especially when you get a good group feeding off of one another,” he says. “I began seeing a lot of the same faces, and it has been enjoyable getting to know new people. I also enjoy helping the more novice divers get better.

“I really don't do it for the attention, but it is a good feeling to hear people cheer when I get done with a good dive. Occasionally when some of the better divers all get going, people will crowd around the diving board just to watch. Of course, the only person I am trying to impress is my wife – I love when she is able to come watch me.”

Jeff climbing the ladder to exit the pool.

Even though he's now dealing with the stress and deadlines of his master's program, Jeff fully expects to be back at the Leisure Pool this summer. It's only by focusing on his own physical and mental health that he will be in a good place to help others.

That's what Texas Tech is enabling him to do.

“I have embraced being both an Aggie and a Red Raider, and I root just as hard for both schools now,” he says. “I have always revered my time in College Station and the education I received there. I go back often. 

“But I have thought about this a lot lately. When I complete the Counselor Education program, I think I will value and appreciate my Texas Tech degree most of all.”

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