Skip to content

Attending the American Counseling Association (ACA) Conference

April 27, 2015

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

When I decided to attend the University of San Diego: SOLES, I did not envision many opportunities beyond education and professional experiences in San Diego. I was ecstatic about meeting new colleagues, professors, and peers, but I never imagined having the chance to travel across the country with three friends in my cohort to attend the American Counseling Association (ACA) Conference in Orlando, FL. The ACA conference was filled with educational and networking events, and was also a time to truly bond with classmates and learn more about each other’s life experiences.

As we touched down in Orlando, I looked up at the Hyatt, where the conference would take place, looming in front of me. At that moment, I knew that it was going to be an intense weekend.

We first checked in at our hotel, and were shown to a miniscule room with two double beds and one bathroom. Initially, we were concerned; we were four women who would need time and space to get ready for professional events over the course of the weekend. However, the tight accommodations ultimately allowed us to bond as classmates, and forced us to get ready quickly and be considerate of others’ obligations and space. Overall, the room we shared was a place of laughter, chaos, and friendship, and was an aspect of the trip that I would not trade or replace.

The next day, the conference began, and there were several events, presentations, and symposiums to choose from. We downloaded the ACA conference app on our smartphones, and it provided us with a list of each seminar, speaker, or event that would be taking place each day. These included discussions such as, “Group Play Therapy: Effects on Social-Emotional Competencies”; Bullying Prevention and Treatment: A Creative Approach”; “Using Motivational Interviewing Techniques with Children in a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program”; “A Model for Changing Relational Schema of Abused Children”, and many more. The seminars ranged from counseling theories and techniques, to evidence-based research presentations, to discussions about neuroscience and how mental health affects the human body. Several events occurred concurrently, making it impossible to attend everything. But there were two discussions that resonated with me.

On day two of the conference, I had the opportunity to attend a session entitled, “LGBTQ: After Coming Out, It Gets Easier, Right?” This presentation was about how professional counselors and students in higher education graduate programs can come out comfortably in new environments, such as new job positions with diverse colleagues or in new academic settings. Often, people lose sight of the fact that coming out is a process, and that when people relocate they may have to go through this process all over again. Therefore, in this session, there was a role-play between a counselor and supervisor that highlighted the stresses of coming out in new cities or institutions, and how this could be easier. I learned to never make assumptions about one’s identity, and that as clinicians it is important to create a safe space for everyone to be comfortable and open about who they are.

During the final morning of the conference, we attended a session that provided me with the insight that I was in the right field and was truly meant to be a counselor. This event was a live couple’s counseling session featuring an actual couple grappling with the triumphs and tribulations of marriage and life. Using the perspective of Alderian therapy, the counselor went through the couple’s intake forms and then began asking questions about aspects of the relationship that they were struggling with, such as communication and openness about each other’s feelings.

As the counselor was using humor to engage the audience and to provide a more relaxed session and approach, I had an epiphany. Not only did I realize that I felt purposeful guiding others to solutions, but the professional environment captivated me, and I knew I was in the right place. While experiencing these moments with friends that now serve as a strong support system and influence on my life, I also knew that SOLES was the only program for me.

Juliana’s Blog Entry: International Perspective

April 21, 2015

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

I have always loved to travel, so I was immediately drawn to SOLES when I found out they had their own Global Studies Center and an international requirement for all of their students. (Finding a Master’s program with study abroad options is rare!) The opportunity to take classes abroad was a major factor in my ultimate decision to come to USD for my Master’s degree—along with the gorgeous campus and awesome faculty! Then, when the time finally came to select my international experience, I had the best problem I could imagine: too many choices! I wanted to take classes abroad over the summer, so I could pick between traveling to Jamaica, Bali, Spain, or Guatemala. Each trip offered a different selection of classes, trips, schedules, and opportunities, and I wanted to experience them all. Ultimately, I decided Spain was the right trip for me! It allowed me the chance to complete two classes (Multicultural Counseling and Group Counseling), live with a host family, spend my weekends traveling, AND practice my Spanish skills! It was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up!

It’s been about nine months now since my classmates and I traveled to Spain. While there, we stayed in Spain’s capital city of Madrid, where we lived with different host families throughout the city, rode the metro to class everyday, and spoiled ourselves with countless Spanish tapas and pastries. Outside of class, we explored the many plazas, parks, and museums all over Madrid, and of course we ventured over to other Spanish cities as well! A few friends and I spent time discovering Granada and Sevilla in Andalucía in southern Spain, Toledo in Castilla La Mancha (south of Madrid), and Segovia in Castilla-y-Leon (north of Madrid). It was absolutely amazing!

It’s hard to fully describe the amazing experience I had studying in Spain—I fell in love with the people, the culture, and the lifestyle. I learned so much about myself, what I am capable of, how to relate with individuals from different cultures, and how to appreciate what someone else’s perspectives can teach me. I really believe that my experience abroad has helped me in my classes since, and will be of great use to me as I move on into my professional life as a counselor.

Just to give you a taste of the many wonderful, incredible things that I had the opportunity to see in Spain, check out some of my favorite pictures:

Juliana 1

The Roman aqueduct in Segovia, Castilla-y-Leon, Spain

Juliana 2

The view of Toledo in Castilla-la-Mancha from just across the river. You can see the gigantic and absolutely breathtaking cathedral in the middle of the city!

Juliana 3

Another beautiful palace garden! This one was in the Alcazar in Sevilla, Andalucía.

Juliana 4

A beautiful garden in the Alhambra in Granada, Andalucía, in southern Spain.

Juliana 5

The gorgeous cathedral in Granada, Andalucía.

It’s Something Special: The USD Way

April 15, 2015

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


It is crazy to think that my time in SOLES is almost over. With that mindset, this time of the semester has me navigating the job search while working to complete my action research project and finishing strong in my classes. Last week I had the opportunity to attend The Placement Exchange (TPE) in New Orleans, Louisiana. This on-site interviewing experience is the largest career placement resource sponsored by six national Student Affairs organizations. As I was getting ready to embark on this experience interviewing at different schools all over the country, I had to pause for a moment of reflection. Was I nervous for the interviews? Of course. That’s normal. But was I prepared? Absolutely.

The second year Graduate Assistant seminar course, along with my colleagues and advisor, provided my cohort members and I with opportunities to do mock interviews to prepare us for this experience. Along with that, SOLES and USD Career Services partnered up to put on Conference Preparation Workshops to hear from seasoned professionals at USD who attended TPE and could tell us what the experience was really like.

If it wasn’t for the care and sincere support from the faculty, administrators and my colleagues at USD, I would have been a total mess walking into that larger than life convention center in New Orleans. I am beyond grateful for my USD family and their support through this graduate journey in order to help me reach my career goals. I feel confident that my academic courses and the professional experiences I have gained throughout my time at USD will allow me to successfully land a job after graduation. Whether I find a job in San Diego, North Carolina or Idaho, I know that I will have my Torero family to thank for helping me get to the place I am at today. The culture of care spread throughout the campus community is something I value the most about this institution. There’s something special about knowing I have countless people on campus that I can count on to advise and guide me, listen to me, laugh with me, and cheer me on. It’s just The USD Way!

It’s almost over!

April 9, 2015
Keep calm

A blog post from SOLES Ambassador and MA in Counseling with specialization in School Counseling, Blanca Zuniga:

As I reminisce about my graduate school experience for the past year and a half, I can’t help but smile. Being in the School Counseling program at USD has been one of the best decisions I have made and one I will treasure forever. I have built new friendships, learned about myself, found my counselor identity and most of all, been part of an amazing and supportive community. As graduation approaches, it’s bittersweet knowing that I will no longer be coming to class and that everyone in my cohort will go their separate ways. However, what keeps me happy is the fact that each one of us will be transforming lives and impacting the lives of so many students. Although, I will miss grad school, I’m so ready to graduate. The exhausting, sleepless and overwhelming days will officially be over. For now, all I have to do is enjoy what is remaining and work hard to make it to the end.

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.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 607 other followers