Twelve years into a career in college admissions after earning his undergraduate degree from Goucher College in Maryland, Josh Stober decided to enroll in DePaul’s award-winning master’s degree program in school counseling. He now works as district college and career counselor for Community Unit School District 300 in Algonquin, Ill. Here he talks about what drew him to DePaul and the counseling program.
I spent my first eight years in college admissions at Goucher and I really wasn’t sure—did I like working in college admissions or do I like working at my alma mater? After moving to Elgin, Ill., I spent a year at Knox College and a year at Lake Forest College; I was as an associate director of college admissions at both. As I got to these higher-level positions, I was spending less and less time with students.
I realized that I really liked working with students, so I started to look at different programs around this area and pretty quickly settled on DePaul.
I valued the emphasis on urban education. I’m the child of two New York City Department of Education and career special educators, and so I grew up with dinner table conversations about the New York City public schools.
The essay questions I was asked on my DePaul application wanted you to be thoughtful about the importance of diversity, of inclusion, of cultural competencies. Even just in the application, DePaul made it clear that the program really has those values. And then as I learned about the Vincentian value system, that appealed to me as well. My mom is a K through college Catholic-school-educated person, and I share that similar value set even though I’m not Catholic.
The first year, you spend taking your core classes with everyone, and it’s sort of nice to see why different people are there and to be exposed to all of the students. I remember my second year beginning the first real school counseling coursework, sitting there and being surrounded by other future school counselors and thinking, ‘oh, these are the people I naturally made as friends and classmates who I really respected and liked.’
At first I felt like I was the oldest one—I’m 35—and I was a little self-conscious, but I quickly realized it was just how our first intro classes had gone. There were a lot of mid-career students who were coming to school counseling in their late twenties, early thirties. And I liked being surrounded by people who had these different backgrounds, different perspectives, who were there for pretty similar reasons as I was. I have this college admissions background, but other folks had backgrounds in nonprofits, in advertising, in corporate recruiting. The faculty encouraged us to build on the skill sets we already have.
A highlight was a two-quarter sequence course in the second year, Contextual Dimensions of School Counseling and Delivery of a Comprehensive School Counseling Program, that serves as an introduction to the school counseling profession. We partnered in small groups with area elementary schools; my group worked with St. Norbert School in Northbrook. That experience was overwhelming at times, but resulted in a much clearer understanding of what we need to do and how best to do it. When I began my internship, one of the first things they asked us to do was to create a needs assessment, which was a major component of our group work in that class. In our first week, we felt like we were ready for this experience of being an intern.
Self-knowledge is power
I wasn’t expecting to learn as much about myself as I have. Part of that is natural, I think, to counseling, where you’re encouraged to be introspective. But some of that is the faculty—and this was true with every single one of them—they would say if you are a good practicing counselor, you are being self-reflective. And they would encourage us to do that and then create spaces where we felt safe to make a mistake, to say the wrong thing, and not feel like we had done something wrong, but instead to be able to learn from that mistake.
Father Pat McDevitt taught a course in Testing and Appraisal that had a lot of statistics involved. He made very clear that understanding this material was not about being a mathematician, but rather understanding it so that if you’re in a room in a consultation, you know what you’re doing and you can support the student and family you’re working with and advocate for them.
And so every week we would spend sometimes half the class just going over this material, and making mistakes, and getting it wrong, and he would laugh and make jokes. He made this totally safe environment to learn and be comfortable with this material. It impressed me that I had so many faculty who were that good, who use humor, use their own personal experiences as counselors to really educate us and help us think about the work we were going to be doing.
Changing the world
There’s a reason we have two national school counselors of the year from DePaul [INSERT URL FOR MAIN ARTICLE]. DePaul is developing counselors who are thinking about data and using data, but are also using their other skills to effect change in their schools and for their students.
It’s sort of like, not pressure, but we are just supposed to go out and change the world. Dr. Melissa Ockerman, who I was lucky enough to have for six quarters in a row and as my practicum and internship supervisor, said to us at the end of every class that school counselors change the world. And the first few times, I’m not sure all of us believed her, but pretty quickly we all realized, right, we are changing the world. It might be the small world of the school that we’re in, or our region, but that’s what we’re taught—how to change the world. It’s genuine.
We learned how to tackle really complicated problems and help raise up a generation of students who have innumerable challenges, whether they are at a low-resourced school or at an incredibly well-resourced school. They all need that support and help.
I can’t believe the three years are already up! I’m really grateful that I have gone through this experience, and I am really happy to get started working again. However I can giving back to DePaul and be of service to DePaul—when that time comes, I look forward to that. I think a lot of my classmates do as well because we’re really grateful for this experience. It was not just a matter of getting a degree, it was changing who we are and the kind of practitioners we’re going to be.