APU Careers & Learning Editor's Pick Online Learning Original

APUS Alumni Stories: Counseling and Educating Students

By Melanie Conner, APUS Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison, and Jennifer Souza, APU Graduate

We celebrate National Learning and Development Month in October. During this event, individuals are encouraged to advance their personal and professional skills.

Jennifer (Jenny) Souza is an APU graduate and a former American Public University System (APUS) employee who has sharpened and broadened her counseling skills over the years. She works with the military population and is an education services specialist for the Department of the Army.

Start a degree program at American Public University.

Starting Her Career as a Counselor

counseling Jenny Souza Conner
APU graduate Jenny Souza

Jenny began her journey with APU in 2008 as a transfer student liaison and later joined the Student and Alumni Affairs team in 2011 as a student life coordinator. While working at APUS, she pursued a master’s in Education: Guidance and Counseling, graduating in the class of 2011.

Jenny says, “It was APUS that helped me hone my passion of working with servicemembers who were pursuing their degrees. It also made me realize that I was going to take the traditional role as a guidance counselor and not work in a K-12 setting. I was able to step out on faith and elevate myself to my true calling.”

Counseling Army Servicemembers

Jenny joined the Department of the Army in 2019 as the lead Army guidance counselor. In her role, she provides exceptional customer service to Army personnel, Veterans, military spouses and dependents, and DoD civilians on a variety of educational programs. She also offers face-to-face assistance to military personnel applying for scholarships, educational allowances and grants.

Jenny counsels Army personnel on their educational goals and helps them to apply for college and various degrees. She also educates servicemembers on Army policies for fiscal year tuition assistance.

In March 2020, Jenny was promoted to an education services specialist. This new role not only encompasses her same duties as an Army guidance counselor, but also involves educational project management and coordination across the National Capitol Region for the military community of Ft. Myer, Ft. Belvoir, and Ft. Meade.

Jenny says that she was inspired to pursue her career as an education services specialist because her mother was a secondary school counselor. Jenny was always privy to her mother’s work and the effects of her profession on the community. Since childhood and from watching her mother’s work, Jenny always loved the field of education and knew that she would be in this field.

She notes, “My undergraduate degree was in English Education from Virginia State University, and I just knew I wanted to be a high school English teacher. That’s funny to think about now! The kids would have swallowed me whole!”

Jenny wanted to further explore her career options and become a guidance or a school counselor because of her personality (she notes that she is empathetic by nature). She loves assisting others.

Once I started working in higher education for a military population in the Office of Student and Alumni Affairs, I found where my passion was. It was working with servicemembers who were pursuing their degrees.—Jenny Souza

Preparing for a Counseling Career

Jenny’s two degrees from Virginia State University and American Public University have proven invaluable in her current career. She says, “The schoolwork, along with the practicum and internship, helped prepare me for a career in counseling. The focus on my master’s program was on counseling theories, individual counseling, group counseling and career counseling. We covered the fundamentals, and the program helped me tone my own unique counseling skillset.

“Through the coursework and fieldwork during the practicum and internship, I was able to take consideration of the total individual potential, the military career development structure, and subsequent civilian career/goals to fully help my soldiers!”

Jenny also adds that networking among her peers in the School Counseling Alumni Network and participating in professional organizations, such as the American School Counselor Association (ASCA), helped her prepare for the counseling field. She is currently continuing her education, pursuing a master’s in Human Service Counseling: Military Resiliency from Liberty University.

Overcoming Challenges

In her role as an education services specialist for the U.S. Army, Jenny says that one of the biggest challenges she faces is that there is never enough time in the day. She observes, “Really trying to find the time to meet with a soldier and properly counsel him or her when there are others in the lobby waiting their turn and other projects to do can feel overwhelming.”

Jenny likes to take her time with her soldiers, noting that it’s never her intent to rush a soldier during a session, especially if he or she is new to the college environment. She notes, “I give each of my soldiers my undivided attention. I really try to get a grasp of what they are seeking and what they are interested in, so we can establish realistic goals together. They deserve that, and I hold true to that mindset. It’s how I build rapport and is one of my key takeaways from my counseling program at APU.”

To overcome the feeling of being overwhelmed, she prioritizes her tasks and manages her time carefully.

Advice to Others Who Want to Pursue a Career in Counseling

Jenny recommends that you take your time and take advantage of the experience from your professors because they have all sat in your seat before. She adds, “Pick their brains and most importantly, ask questions! Take advantage of the networking opportunities such as student organizations, and get to know your peers. Networking is key and will help you out tremendously in this field.

“I stay connected with Dr. Kimberlee Ratliff (faculty member for the School of Education). She is truly a pillar in the school counseling field and is a wealth of knowledge. Staying connected is crucial for me!”

Melanie Conner is a Student and Alumni Affairs Liaison at the university. Having worked in higher education for almost 10 years, Melanie enjoys cultivating relationships with students and alumni. She has undergraduate degrees in education from Germanna Community College and in sociology from the University of Mary Washington.

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