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My “real” life

March 26, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Adriana Del Vecchio:

Often times, during my graduate studies, I joked that that I’m a “fake” adult. I’m living my “fake” life, just eagerly awaiting graduation and the opportunity to finally begin living my “real” life. In many instances this was somewhat true. I left my established life in Virginia to come to USD. I left my friends, I left my family, and I left my partner, while he pursued his own dream in San Francisco. Upon arrival in San Diego, I constantly witnessed those around me who were “living” their life. They were moving forward in their romantic relationships, in a time where stagnation was what plagued mine. They were working, accomplishing goals, and taking incredible adventures. And through some cognitive distortion, everything I was doing appeared to be the opposite. I was merely replicating my role from the previous year. I was a student and continued to be a student, while many of my friends moved forward with their careers. Graduate school became this uncomfortable in between; I was not quite a contributing adult, nor a youthful college student. I felt stuck and unimportant. I often questioned my decisions to attend graduate school at all. One night, over a couple glasses of cabernet, my friend pointed out the absurdity of my thought process. After expressing my vexations, she stared at me, utterly astonished, and said, “what are you talking about?! That’s insane!” After several more admonishments, I began to realize just how right she was.

Half Marathon

And with that, I made the decision to live with intention. To make this my “real” life. To no longer let this joke function as an excuse, or a rationale for timid behavior. I have done more in the past three years then I ever would have imagined. I ran two half-marathons, traveled to Madrid, went winetasting in Napa, and made new lifelong friends. I went paddle boarding, hiking, and rock climbing. I became part of a community. I have had the opportunity to give back to my classmates as a student ambassador and a member of student government. But paramount to these exciting experiences, the past three years here at the University of San Diego, I have embarked a powerful journey of introspection, self-growth, and learning. I developed my passion for social justice. I learned in the classroom what it means to live with gratitude and how to translate that to my everyday. I discovered what my values were and how they impact the way I choose to live my life; to live with purpose, to engage with another human being, to counsel.

This year alone during my internship, I witnessed the pain and sorrow as well as, the joy and resilience of people’s lives. I became privy to the supreme anguish and inspiring strength of the human psyche. I am humbled and thankful everyday for the individuals who share their lives with me. This journey has solidified my passion for my work and my decision to pursue counseling. And as I sit here, a mere 10 weeks until graduation, I recognize how powerful this semester has been. I find myself eager to search for my jobs, to show the field what I am capable of doing, and to recognize the force I can be. I am not beginning to live my “real” life, nor am ending the life I made in San Diego, but rather continuing my journey to San Francisco, gathering friends, experiences, and knowledge along the way.


Coronado Sunset

Mid-semester musings

March 23, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Jeff Bourgeois:

On March 7, 2014, at exactly 12:00 Noon, I received my email of invitation to the Leadership Studies PhD program at USD. And, to be completely transparent about it, I cried. No shame, no pride; I was brought to tears with the excitement, relief, and all the other emotions that filled my inbox with that one message. It was also one of the few times I’ve ever seen my father cry, too. It was just that powerful.

Of course, almost instantaneously, scenes of what the PhD experience might look like played out in my head. Mini documentaries of my new academic life dominated most of my hopes, daydreams, and anxieties. I silently promised I wouldn’t allow myself to let these visions become expectations, and move forward with an open mind.

Fast-forward to today… I am halfway through my second semester in the program. That euphoric moment of a little more than a year ago seems so very distant. If I stop to think about the ways the PhD program has filled my schedule and my life, it might be a little overwhelming. It has been a full semester-and-a-half. I have found myself elated, scared, frustrated, and humbled so many times. More than anything, I am grateful for the chance to be here, surrounded by so many wonderful people, doing something so very important. In reflecting on my mid-semester experience, I can’t help but find myself brought back to the beginning– before it all started to take shape. It has been quite a year.

In a moment, I will tell you a bit about my experience. But, it’s important to know that it is only that—my experience. If you were to poll my 17 fellow cohort members, each would tell you their experience has been different than mine. And, most certainly, yours will be different too. Without meeting any of you, I know your pre-graduate degree lives won’t remotely resemble anything like what has brought me to this place. My advice to you is this—don’t take anyone’s advice. Let this experience be your adventure. Let your journey through whichever degree program you’re pursuing feed you the abundance you seek—remember what matters to you, and not what anyone else might wish or hope for you. Embrace it, and make it yours.

To be fair, it hasn’t been all about the great sunsets and weekend trips to the beach. While I have made it a point to stop and enjoy the sunsets, I have only felt the sand in my toes a handful of times since September first. Taking three classes each semester, and teaching a section of the undergraduate course, Emerging Leaders, most of my days (and nights) have been dedicated to the many class readings, papers, projects, or research that accompany such a full schedule. It has been a lot of work. And I am grateful for every bit of it.

Looking back on my SOLES experience so far, I can say with certainty that it is the people that have truly shaped the experience. My classmates, the faculty and staff, and the countless others have challenged me, championed me, intrigued me, and entertained me. Community is one of the largest to appear in the blog word cloud, and it is truly not an accident. Be assured that you have been invited to become a part of a unique group of people who share your passions and perspectives. You will find yourself in many situations at SOLES, but I dare say you’ll nearly never find yourself lonely.

Just Stop. The Incredible Gift You Give Yourself.

March 16, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and PhD in Leadership Studies, Kathryn Bingham:

First published at

Kathryn one

Photo: (c) 2013 Kathryn Bingham “Vista View” All rights reserved

To truly lead, you need to stop.

And yes, I hear the collective refrains of “are you kidding? We’re already a few days into December—I have deadlines to beat!” Was that you? Then, please, take a moment. Look at the image of the seaside sunset, and let me share a quick story or two.

I know what “busy” looks like. Let’s begin with a few confessions of overachievement. I’m the one who, while serving the community as Executive Director of a nonprofit, returned to university as an adult, tutored classmates in economics and financial accounting and still had time to make a custom apron for my then-fifth-grader’s class trip to Starbucks. I’m also the one who, having transitioned to a demanding corporate job, simultaneously (with spouse) spent almost every other waking hour gutting and remodeling a house and (without spouse) planned and executed my son and daughter-in-law’s dream wedding. Additionally, I completed my first graduate degree (this time tutoring classmates on finance and statistics) while working 70 hours a week—which required weekly travel—and still committed to be in town Thursday nights for my by-then high schooler’s wrestling matches. I could go on, but you get the idea. Any glimpses mirroring your own life and career?

The truth is, we live in a complex world. Our careers often intrude into what used to be exclusively home, family or that now elusive leisure time. We parcel out energy, as well, to causes and community. We invest in growing others through mentoring and coaching. If we allow it, demands of the perpetually pressing would control us and, in turn, influence our state of being, our health, our productivity and our relationships. There is an alternative.

Effective leaders prioritize and harness the power of the pause (read more about this concept here). A pause takes various forms. A “momentary” pause might mark the instant before decisions and actions, when a leader allows all his or her experience and knowledge of the issue, circumstances and people to coalesce into insight regarding potential paths and next steps. At the other end of the spectrum, pausing might involve dedicated time for a systemic evaluation of purpose, mission and values (see posts on mission developmentstrengths assessment and values exercise for examples and resources). Somewhere in between these options lies a third possibility—the pause “opportunity”—making a decision to leverage the serendipity of place and time.

My photo of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean captures a pause of opportunity. I had embarked on a 90-day personal “intention experiment” (see blog post for overview). I straddled life complicated by homes in two cities and the demands of a corporate role, a coaching practice and my doctoral coursework. I’d passed this location off the highway between Los Angeles and San Diego a hundred times, always with another deadline or meeting overshadowing the lure of the vista awaiting me. And then I stopped.

In the moments before, the impact of my daily “mental rehearsal” surfaced. Instead of driving by, I took the off-ramp leading to the viewpoint. As it had many times before in life, the pause made all the difference. The sounds of nearby traffic fell away, replaced by the ebb-flow lull of crashing ocean waves and the intermittent call of seabirds. Although joined by a handful of other travelers who paused their own journeys, voices were hushed and no one intruded into another’s contemplative space. In tandem with the view of the waves and sunset, I saw with acute clarity the vision of my own mission and purpose. Symbolically, I snapped the photo to capture the experience.

To those of you for whom this story is just “woo-woo” enough to move beyond the boundary of your comfort zone, let me assure you: I am also a pragmatic realist. But having an appreciation for facts and data does not preclude acceptance of understanding drawn from what we cannot see. Flashes of perception and intuitive knowing can be just as tangible as our own hard research. We need to leverage the wisdom that comes from the practice of presencing.

The approach of year-end invites even the most driven amongst us to pause and reflect. This isn’t the trite noting of a few “new year’s resolutions” that will be long forgotten by March. Instead, take time to intentionally consider who you are and where you hope your own life and work will take you. If you lack the certainty of a personal mission and a purposeful path, perhaps it’s time for you to stop.

Practicum in School Counseling

March 12, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in School Counseling, Tina Alcorn:

Hi everyone! Before I jump into my practicum experience, I wanted to briefly introduce myself. I’m currently in my second semester as a graduate student in the school counseling specialization. It’s somewhat overwhelming to know that you will be thrown into practicum within your first-year of the program, but fret not my friends. I assure you that it is a great learning opportunity and it’s exciting to see what you, as school counselors, will actually be doing.

I am currently placed at La Mesa Middle School for my practicum. I’ve been there for a month and I love it. I look forward to it every week! I was lucky enough to have most of the students on my caseload return their permission slips, which meant I could start providing them counseling services. Right now I work with 8 students a week. I only have time to meet with each one of them for about 25 minutes and it is definitely challenging. In fact, one student told me that the time we spent together wasn’t enough and asked if I could meet with her another day of the week. If your site allows you to come at other days and times, I would highly encourage it. It allows you to build better rapport with the students and you’d be surprised by how meaningful your meetings become for them.

One thing I learned right away was the importance of organization. A way I try to remain organized is by creating case files for each student. During our initial meetings, I had each student complete an “About Me” form and I taped it to the front of each of their files (pictured below). Not only did the form provide some basic information about the student, but it was also a good activity to get them to open up. Completing the forms allowed them to free up their minds so that they were able to talk more freely and openly with me right from the beginning. You also get to know a lot about them by the way they fill out the form. For instance, one of my students drew only his mom and his sister for his “Family Portrait.” This indicated to me that he was living in a single-parent household, which is helpful information.

Tina one

Another way I stay organized is by making sure I have my students scheduled for our next meeting (pictured below with names changed). Admittedly, this part can be difficult because it means having to know which classes you can pull students from, what their schedules look like depending on the semester/trimester, and making sure you aren’t pulling them from the same class every week. However, it helps you stay on track so that you are able to meet with every student. I also provide a copy to my supervisor so she knows where to find me if she needs me.


Another thing I highly suggest doing is setting up a Pinterest board with others in your cohort. This allows you to share counseling resources, such as lesson guides, one-on-one activities, icebreakers, and tips. Here is a link to our Pinterest board as an example. It is open to anyone, so feel free to browse around and use anything you find might be helpful. I have used several activities from Pinterest, including the “About Me” form for the student files.

My last suggestion is to be yourself! The students appreciate being able to talk to someone who is real with them. I know it can be intimidating at first, but you have to realize that they are just as nervous, if not more, as you are. I’ve found that it is best to just be honest and upfront with them. Let them know that you want to get to know one another and that you appreciate the opportunity they are giving you to talk with them. You will learn more about how to build rapport with the students in your Counseling Skills class, but know that it is important to be yourself because that is what you expect from them.

Why Higher Education Leadership at USD?

March 9, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Higher Education Leadership, Katie Russo:


A couple of weeks ago, we had the Admitted Students Campus Visit Day for the MA in Higher Education Leadership program at USD. While meeting and mingling with these admitted students, I was able to reflect on my own passion for the program here, and share my SOLES experience with the men and women I spoke with.

I chose the Higher Education Leadership program in SOLES and USD for 4 main reasons. The first reason was the location, because I needed to attend graduate school in southern California, close to home for me, because of my mom’s health situation at the time. And really… who can complain about San Diego? The dream weather and limitless adventures at your fingertips truly make it “America’s Finest City.” The second reason was the program’s community and family feel, with the small cohort and close relationships with faculty and administration. This was extremely important and meaningful to me, because I was able to have my colleagues, classmates and professors become a part of my San Diego support system. My third reason for selecting this program and institution is the emphasis on leadership in my degree and in my program coursework. I liked that it differed from some student affairs specific graduate programs, by focusing on leadership within higher education. For example, as I like to explain to people now when I am marketing the worth of my degree, I am earning a Masters degree in leadership with an emphasis in higher education, which makes the degree transferable and valuable. Lastly, the final component that truly sold me on the program is the international requirement to complete a global study course or international experience, because I never had the opportunity to study abroad in my undergraduate career.

My final note on my love and appreciation for USD and its educational and student involvement approach is the student-centeredness focus and philosophy on intentional programming aimed at holistic student development. Members of the USD community here, including faculty, staff, and administrators are passionately devoted to student-centeredness work developing the “whole” student, person and engaged member of society. It is something I admire and support so much here at USD. I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I chose not to come to USD, because the experiences and relationships I’ve created here have changed my life for the better in more ways than I ever dreamed of.

To Intersession or Not to Intersession

March 4, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Lara Touckley:

Many graduate students are uncertain as to whether or not they want to take a course during Intersession. Some people fear it, some don’t know it exists, and the rest just want a nice long break.

For those of you who don’t know what Intersession is, it’s a 3-week semester that takes place in January between the Fall and Spring semesters. Due to its short duration, the course is condensed and it’s advised that a student take only one course per Intersession.

Some students are obligated to take a course during Intersession depending on their program. However, there remains a huge body of students in which taking a course during Intersession is optional. Some students don’t like it – it’s just too much cramming! But others absolutely love it – finishing a course in just 3 weeks?! Sign me up! So after assessing one’s priorities, it really depends on the person’s style. Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself before registering for a course during Intersession:

  • Will I be mentally ready for the Spring semester if my vacation is shortened?
  • Am I in a rush to get this course out of the way?
  • Is it more beneficial for me to take a course now rather than in the Summer?
  • What kind of schedule do I prefer – a fast-paced condensed one or a more regularly paced one?

One question I found myself asking after taking a course during Intersession was: did I miss out on any important information or activities that would have been available had I taken the course during the regular 16-week semester? To avoid feeling like other peers have benefited more from taking the course in a regular semester, it’s always a good idea to speak to your advisor and/or the professor offering the course of your choice. This way you’ll get a feel of how the course will be like in a condensed 3-week Intersession versus a regular 4-month Fall or Spring semester; thus, you’ll be able to judge for yourself which semester/course will be more beneficial to you. From my experience, I did not miss out on anything. However, it’s always better to be safe than sorry! If there is a course that you’re interested in and would want to delve into more in-depth, perhaps taking it in the Fall or Spring would give you more time and room for in-depth development in that course.

Finally, you liking or not liking Intersession all depends on your style and preference. If you like a fast-paced schedule and work well under pressure, I think you would enjoy taking a course during Intersession.

Exploring San Diego

February 24, 2015

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in School Counseling Michelle Nakamura:

This is my first blog and I pondered for a long time on what to write. I was definitely thinking it had to be more along the lines of study hard or this program is so awesome (which it is). However, I thought that many current and incoming students are not from the San Diego area. I myself am from Hawaii! So here are some of the great San Diego area activities that I’ve enjoyed and hope you’ll enjoy when you make your way here.

Potato Chip Rock Hike: Why wouldn’t you eat potato chips on the Potato Chip rock?! Yes it’s a bit grueling in that lovely sun but you should be taking advantage of this year round one season weather.

Michelle 1

San Diego Zoo & Wild Animal Park: It’s world famous! It’s something you need to experience once, just like Disneyland. The Wild Animal Park also just opened their new Tiger Trail during summer and it’s really nice!

Michelle 2

Michelle 3

Temecula: Okay, so not part of San Diego but only an hour north. It’s beautiful and they have great wineries! Makes for a perfect day trip to relax from all that grad school life. South Coast Winery is my go-to soley based on the beauty of their outdoor area.

Michelle 4

Extraordinary Desserts: The desserts here are almost too beautiful to eat, but this is a must! The menu is ever changing so don’t wait too long to decide!

Michelle 5

San Diego Comic Con: The MECCA of pop culture and comic conventions. I was lucky enough to be one of the 130,000+ attendees this past summer. It was ah-mazing. Don’t fret if you can’t get tickets, there are still tons of free events that happen outside of the convention center.

Michelle 6

This is just a small taste of what San Diego has to offer. You’ll do a lot more exploring on your own, with your cohort, and/or USD community. Even meeting new people from outside of SOLES is something to experience. I use Meetup to find groups with similar interests or have the same background as me. Great way to meet new friends, find new places to eat, attend free events, etc!


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