November 15, 2022

Department Spotlight: Heidi Pitkin

Heidi Pitkin with her husband Matt
Heidi Pitkin is a third year student in the USU School Counseling Education Program. Heidi got her undergraduate degree in social work, and always wanted to further her education. In 2019, she realized she wanted to become a school counselor and enrolled in the master's program with the goal of becoming the counselor struggling students need.
Why did you choose USU?
I chose USU for several reasons. I wanted an in-person educational experience. As I looked at what options I had, the U of U and USU were the only two viable options. USU was a lot cheaper than the U of U and closer to home. So that made my initial decision pretty easy. My mom works for USU, and it is the university that many of my cousins, aunt/uncles and grandparents attended. I went to a different university for my undergrad, so choosing it for my graduate degree felt like a good way to honor family tradition. Lastly, I really value USU's long-time focus on bringing education to as many people as possible around the state by building extension centers. Education is important to me, so attending a university that has focused on bringing education to rural areas is incredibly meaningful to me. 

Why did you decide to pursue a degree in school counselor education?
I received a bachelor's degree in social work with the intent to get my masters immediately after and become a child and family therapist.  Life took me in a different direction, and not only did I not pursue that master's degree, but I left the field of social work entirely.  I've always had a gentle pull in the back of my mind to continue my path, but I put it off. In 2017, my husbandbegan his journey to change careers by going back to school. I didn't realize it at the time, but I think his journey was working magic on me. Because 2 years later, we were walking out of the high school we'd just enrolled our exchange student in and I looked at my husband and said, "I want to be a school counselor." I immediately started looking into programs and their prerequisites, and I applied to USU just a couple months later.

What were your goals when you started the program? And how do those compare to your current aspirations?
My goals when I entered the program were 1) become the counselor the struggling students need 2) set aside my biases 3) never work in an elementary but be open to the opportunities that are presented as I search for jobs. Well long story short, 1 and 2 are a work in progress and I think will always be a work in progress, and my first counseling job is at an elementary!!! I've revised my third goal to drop the first part and just focus on the last part about being open.  Things work out for the best, every time, and I need to trust that. 

What is the most important thing you have learned in the school counselor education program?
Love and support your people.  The whole business of school counseling, no matter where you land, is a team effort.  You need people in order to be successful as a school counselor. You can't possibly know how to handle every situation. Building relationships with your cohort, within your school, within your district, within the state, are absolutely vital to success.  Those relationships are not a 'nice to have' they are a 'must have' so start on them ASAP!

What Advice do you have for other students in the school counselor education program, or to those considering applying?
Don't have expectations. Be open to all the different possibilities and directions this degree can take you. Our preconceived ideas and biases can limit us and our power of influence if we try to dictate or control every direction we go. Letting go just a little can have a massive and positive impact. I have seen this to be true not only for myself, but for a lot of my friends in the program as we've all gotten hired or found internships. So many people had their plans blown up and it has been for the better in every case. 

Who influenced you most during your time at USU?
As cliche as this is going to sound, the answer is everyone. There were so many learning moments along the way. They came from professors, the program director, my cohort, my employers, my students that I worked with during practicum and internship. Sometimes there were less than pleasant interactions, but they always came with a valuable lesson, just as the pleasant ones did. I am so grateful to everyone who has come into my life over the course of this program. My growth has been off the charts, and I am deeply grateful to everyone who has aided in my growth.