Alumna Rachel Catlett, a school counselor at Westridge Middle School in Grand Island, was honored last year as the Nebraska School Counselor of the Year by the Nebraska School Counselor Association. Rachel shared her experiences in the Counseling program in a Q&A from the college's 19-20 Annual Report.
Rachel came to the field of school counseling with a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice from UNL. She earned concurrent master's degrees in 2015, completing UNO's Counseling program and a fasttrack Curriculum and Instruction program from Doane University.
Her academic background and experiences—including teaching practicums at Omaha North and Omaha Central High Schools—prepared her to implement dynamic programming at Westridge, with topics like anti-bullying, online safety, suicide prevention, and inclusion, as well as provididng robust mental health resources for students and families.
According to Westridge Assistant Principal Kayla Wichmann, "The students know that they can go to her and trust her. For a lot of the kids, she is the first person that they go to."
What was your experience like at UNO and in the School Counseling Program?
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at UNO. I loved arriving to night classes and walking onto campus in the Fall. As a small-town Nebraskan, UNO's campus is a wonderful escape from the urban hustle and noise. All of my classes were enlightening, and I developed a strong passion for school counseling; dreaming of the program I would create and the students I could help.
Graduate school is when I really came out of my shell. I had always done well in school, but had been shy and rarely spoke up in class. My graduate experience was much different. I was passionate about the topics and always wanting to learn more. The way we practiced our skills face to face is something you could never get online. Moving through the awkwardness can only be done in person. Overall, I found my classes challenging and inspiring
How was UNO's School Counseling program significant to your professional development as a school leader and school counselor?
The School Counseling program prepared me to be a strong advocate for school counselors, a comprehensive program, and students. We discussed the roadblocks school counselors face and how to advocate for ourselves, which in turn helps students. We discussed the major themes of the ASCA (American School Counselor Association) model, which includes leadership. This was a very important part of each class, and I feel UNO prepared me to be the leader I am at Grand Island Public Schools.
Did your perspective change as you went through the program?
I became more self-aware of my thinking process and how my strengths could help improve schools and student success. Throughout the program, I realized that I see the big picture, yet follow through with the planning, organization, and details just as well. This is a great asset to have when you are implementing new programs into a school setting. I also learned that showing stakeholders your outcome data is extremely important.
What sets UNO apart from other institutions?
I enjoyed the challenging classes and was inspired to become a high-quality school counselor. Also, I don't think I would be the school counselor I am today if I took my classes online. Communication, discussions, and truly finding my voice during graduate school has shaped me into a strong leader and advocate.
Interested in school counseling? CEHHS's CACREP-Accredited Master of Science degree or Master of Arts degree includes the coursework and field experiences (practicum/internships) required for certification as a School Counselor in Nebraska.
Don’t have a teaching certificate? Nebraska now provides a path to an endorsement as a school counselor without a teaching certificate through the Alternative Degree Endorsement. An advisor will work with alternative endorsement applicants to ensure you complete the appropriate courses to meet this requirement.
Contact Dr. Elizabeth Tolliver at email@example.com for more details.