Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m here, studying at Harvard! And did you know that Harvard University was founded in 1636?! Being on a campus with so much history and knowledge is extremely exciting, inspiring, and humbling! I visited the Harvard campus for the first time at the 2014 College Opportunity Agenda: Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising, an event in partnership with the White House and Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher Initiative. Being with phenomenal school counseling leaders from across the country at the convening was life changing. I felt so much gratitude to be among the 140 attendees to learn, collaborate, and share, and was also extremely inspired being on Harvard’s campus. The visit was my first time setting foot on an East Coast ivy league school, and I felt in awe of the history and prestige surrounding me.
As school counselors, we know that taking students to visit universities helps demystify college, as they can begin envisioning themselves on campus. This is especially important for students who will be the first in their family to attend college. Coordinating college tours, coupled with classroom lessons to help students prepare for the visit and then process what they learned after was one of my favorite parts of my school counselor role. I loved seeing students excitedly walk on campus, comparing the college classrooms to the ones at their school, and asking every questions imaginable. While working to demystify college for my students, I didn’t realize I also needed college demystified for me.
After my visit to Harvard I reflected on many aspects of my trip, including the possibility that I could attend Harvard. How had I never thought of attending Harvard before?, I wondered. The question continued running through my mind as I researched Harvard’s doctoral programs and considered applying. Several months later I attended the next White House Convening at San Diego State University, entitled Strengthening School Counseling and College Advising, and reconnected with Harvard professor, Dr. Mandy Savitz-Romer. Mandy was on the core team working with the White House to promote the appropriate role of school counselors within the Reach Higher Initiative, and I wrote her a thank you email after attending the Harvard event. As we talked in San Diego I asked her about the doctoral programs and said, “I think I’m going to apply, and you’re the first one I’m telling.” Her response was something to the effect of “Now that you said it out loud you’ve made it real.” She was right.
In the fall of 2015 I applied to Harvard’s Education Leadership (Ed.L.D.) Program. Having worked as both a school counselor and counseling grant project director, serving as President for the California Association of School Counselors, presenting at state and national school counseling conferences, teaching graduate courses for future school counselors, writing an article published in the Professional School Counselor journal, and studying like crazy for the GREs, I felt good about my application. I knew Harvard conducted in-person interviews at the end of February, so beginning in January I started anxiously awaiting notification. The notification came, but in the form of a rejection email. I was crushed.
While I loved working as a school counselor and now leading counselors, I was ready for a change, and I hoped that change would be Harvard. I applied to two other education leadership doctoral programs as well and wasn’t accepted to either. Shortly after all the bad news I visited my parents in Northern California and I still remember going on a run and crying (which is pretty hard to do at the same time!). I wasn’t sure of my next steps, but I still was looking for a new opportunity in my learning and leadership.
This change came in the form of Dr. Trish Hatch :) When I was a graduate student at San Diego State University (SDSU) Trish was the director of the School Counseling Program and her mentorship continued after I graduated. My first school counseling position was grant funded and Trish was the grant evaluator, and not only supported my learning as a new counselor, but also involved me in the evaluation process as we analyzed data aligned with our counseling program, wrote the federal grant report, and presented to the school board to advocate for continuing counseling services after the grant funding ceased (which happened…yay!). Trish empowered me to become an adjunct faculty member in SDSU’s school counseling program, encouraged me to run for president of the California Association of School Counselors, and pushed me through the painful process of co-authoring a peer reviewed journal article with her! So much of where I am today is due to not only my hard work, but Trish believing in and empowering me. After my graduate school rejections Trish and I talked (and I likely cried again), and the conversation turned from one of sorrow to one of healing. We brainstormed about next steps and how Trish was looking for additional support in her educational organization, Hatching Results. After a variety of discussions and processing I took a leap of faith and decided to leave my tenured position at my district to work full time with Hatching Results.
When I began, I didn’t even have a position title and continued to joke that we were a start-up (which was actually more serious than a joke but in the best of ways). My role became Director of Professional Development and I provided direct services to support school counselors as they evaluated, developed, implemented, and improved comprehensive, data-driven school counseling programs, alongside administrators and district leaders. My work spanned districts and counties throughout California and Indiana, and the position grew to helping hire, train, and support additional part-time team Professional Development Specialists and Coaches as they began working in our contracted districts as well. During my two years working with Hatching Results our organization grew so much - from streamlining our professional development to increasing the number of districts in which we were working to hiring three times the number of additional staff to purchasing a property to coordinating an annual conference. I loved teaming with counselors and administrators to support their improvement, measure their impact, and learn about the successes and challenges amongst different districts and regions. And yet, while I was extremely happy, I knew achieving my doctorate was still an important goal for me.
In 2017 I applied again - to Harvard and two additional programs (both different than the last time). I asked for more feedback on my applications which included "selling myself” more. I took the advice and even though I felt uncomfortable, I framed my application to better highlight my work as a leader the field of school counseling. In January I was just about to start leading a professional development in Southern California when an email from Harvard popped up on my phone - I was selected for an interview! A month later I flew across the country, trekked to campus in the snow, and participated in an intense but amazing full-day interview process. At the end of the day I shared my story about visiting Harvard and being demystified, which further reinforced the power of my work to do the same for students. I spoke of not being accepted two years ago and, regardless of the outcome this time, I would still continue to work passionately to support all students’ academic, college and career, and social/emotional development. And I left feeling both exhausted and at peace.
This time the notifications I received were positive - acceptance to all three programs!!! And the choice was easy. HARVARD!
I share my journey to Harvard for several reasons: 1) for readers to get to know me as an imperfect human who has successes and also struggles, but still does my best to make lemonade out of lemons, 2) to encourage school counselors to think of themselves as leaders in the education field and to recognize education leadership as an amazing option for a doctoral program, 3) as a reminder to myself and others that when situations don’t turn out in the way we hope (aka, not getting into Harvard the first time) other great opportunities can arise, and 4) to push myself to continue working hard and fighting for what I believe in, which I hope readers will do as well.
Thank you for reading my first blog post…I am excited to share this amazing experience with you all as I process through learning, struggles, and growth.