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Levis shares how she uses the feeling she received when stepping foot on Westminster College's campus to help other students know which college is right for them

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Posted on Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Nicole Levis '93, a previous business administration major and now school counselor featured in a recent Public Source article and a 2017 School Counselor of the Year award recipient, shares how she defines "success" in her role and how she uses the feeling she received when stepping foot on Westminster College's campus to help other students know which college is right for them.

As a school counselor, how do you help students understand that “feeling” that they will feel when they’re choosing the right school? What was your experience? I'm currently meeting with my juniors and their parents so this is a topic I've been talking about a lot lately. I tell kids that they need to pay attention to how they are feeling when visiting a campus. Does it feel different than how they felt when they were at a different campus? Are they comfortable there? I tell parents to pay attention to their student's body language. Are they disinterested in what the tour guide is saying? Are they at the back of the tour group? Are their hands in their pockets or at their side? Are they asking questions? Is he/she smiling?

When I was visiting Westminster, I just knew it was where I wanted to be. It fit. It felt right. I always (and still do) talk a lot when I am excited about something so my mom said that she knew it was the school for me because I talked about it the whole 90 minute drive home!

Tell me a little bit about why you decided to go into school counseling? I was an Admission & Financial Aid Counselor at the University of Pittsburgh in 1994 and had just completed a phone call with a prospective student who was given false information about the University from her counselor. That frustrated me as it swayed her decision away from Pitt. At the time, I was trying to decide between a Master's degree in hospital administration or School Counseling. I remember hanging up the phone and thinking to myself that I would be a good School Counselor considering my current experiences so it was in that moment that I decided to become a School Counselor.

What’s been your most successful year of your career and what’s been present to make it that? How can we replicate under the restrictions we have right now? I'd like to think that each year (22.5) that I've been a School Counselor has been successful in some way. A year that stands out is 2015-2016 when my colleague and I, along with the School Nurse, used data to advocate for school-based therapy (SBT) and the school board approved the idea. We now have a licensed therapist in the building, currently virtual due to the COVID-19 restrictions, who meets with students on a regular basis. These students would not have been able to receive the service otherwise for various reasons.

How do you define “success” in your role? I feel success is when I see students accepting the help they need. I think success is collaborating with teachers or other counselors to do something for our students. Some days success is simply scratching an item or two off of my to-do list! One major success I have had in my career was being recognized by my peers and being named the 2017 Pennsylvania High School Counselor of the Year by Pennsylvania School Counselor Association (PSCA).

What has been your biggest struggle trying to guide students during the pandemic – and how are you on your way to overcoming it? My biggest struggle has been access to students. We started the year in an asynchronous hybrid model and I never wanted to pull a student from class or ask for class time to present as students were only receiving direct instruction two days a week. I’ve overcome these obstacles by collaborating with School and College Counselors at area high schools (Quaker Valley, Moon Area & South Fayette) to offer virtual college search and financial aid programming via Zoom to our students and parents. (In fact, Julie Sitko a School/College Counselor at Moon Area HS is also a Westminster graduate.) I also offer meetings for students and parents via Google Meet.

From your perspective, why is it so important for WC alumni to share their first hand experiences with potential students, since they may not be able to visit campus during this time? I think sharing my thoughts about Westminster is important because I can back up the comments made by the admissions counselors. Though Westminster has changed a great deal since I graduated, I think much of what it was is the same such as the interactions between student and instructor, opportunities to play a sport or get involved in other activities the ability to dive deeper into your major through research, if interested, and of course the campus is beautiful and that hasn't changed, if anything it’s even better.

Photo Credit: EFB Photography