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Meet Danielle Yepa Gunderson

Danielle Yepa GundersonDanielle Yepa Gunderson
Associate Director of College Counseling
Sandia Preparatory School (NM)
Leader of the Native/Indigenous Peoples SIG

What drew you to the world of college counseling?
I entered the world of college counseling with the desire to help students learn how to efficiently navigate through the college admission process. I did not want other students to not know their way through the college application process. I wish I could say I had a lot of guidance that showed me the way as I applied to college. As a first-generation student, I did not. I was fortunate to have applied and attended a liberal arts college that met all my needs. Fortunately, I knew during high school and entering my undergraduate work, I wanted to study psychology to eventually become a counselor. I did not wander from major to major as an undergraduate student and completed my bachelor’s degree in four years. I then completed a nine-month accelerated teacher certification program to confirm my work as a school counselor by supporting teachers in the classroom. My educational journey as an undergraduate and graduate student provided me the focus to guide my path to becoming a school counselor. For example, my master’s program in counseling gave me the option to pursue school or mental health counseling. My first position as a high school counselor was to serve as a college, academic, and mental health counselor. Through this phenomenal professional experience, I discovered the specialized positions designed to focus on college counseling. I realized I thoroughly enjoyed learning every facet of the college research and application process to guide students and parents. The next position I held afforded me the opportunity to move forward with my passion in college counseling.

What is your favorite part of the job?
My favorite part of the job is to help students realize they are made to do great things, they are college-bound, and their opportunities are endless. I strive to work with all students by helping them to understand any obstacle can be overcome. If anything is meant to be, it begins with their believing in themselves first. I have the honor to work with Native American and Indigenous students in my career and through multiple volunteer positions. This is important to me because I too was a Native American high school student, first-generation student, and have had many obstacles to overcome to earn my degrees. I want students to remember I am that person in their corner and their biggest advocate! My supportive parents, husband, daughters, and mentors have always stood in my corner and I desire to pay it forward.

How did you get involved with the Native/Indigenous People SIG?
I began attending the SIG at NACAC’s 2016 National Conference in San Diego to network with other Native and Indigenous people in the college counseling profession. I found a supportive group of Native and Indigenous professionals I could rely on and connect with outside the NACAC conference. I found my home. I have made so many connections due to the SIG. I am thankful for the lifetime relationships and friendships I have been granted through my involvement.

Why is this SIG important to you?
The SIG is important to me because there are important discussions among Native American and Indigenous peoples regarding future education. I take my role very seriously and to do my utmost for the SIG. My desire is for the voices from the SIG to be heard and supported. For example, the discussion about land acknowledgement first occurred among SIG members and now is a permanent feature of the opening general session at the national conference. I strive to create a collaborative environment and welcoming place where professionals can be supported. The number of Native American and Indigenous professionals in college counseling admission work is on the rise, and important work is being performed at all levels to support Native American and Indigenous students. Native American and Indigenous people are true gems and have risen after many, many barriers and challenges in their lives and educational journeys. Their accomplishments as educators, especially in higher education, is to be commended and recognized. Leading the SIG is very important to me.

Why should counselors and admission professionals get involved with a NACAC SIG?
We work in a profession where collaboration and learning one another’s story is essential and important to our growth as human beings and professionals. Engaging in a NACAC SIG provides an opportunity to create compassion, understanding, and unconditional support for one another. You have a story to tell and share with others so an awareness and deeper appreciation for similarities and differences can be heard. NACAC SIGs provides a place where a group of professionals can create a community extending beyond our own working community at our institutions.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing our profession today?
Fear. We have to rise up and educate ourselves on important topics regarding education that are key in promoting change in our profession. Recently, I decided my comfort zone would come to an end and I chose to pursue my doctoral degree in Native American Leadership in Education. I have come to accept and understand it is important for me to take ownership for my own learning with Native American/Indigenous education. It is not enough for me to claim I don’t know or have never been taught. I want to contribute to supporting Native American and Indigenous students and to answer the calling I have been granted.

When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
I really value spending time with my family, and it warms my heart to have a meal together and talk about our day. I treasure the shared laughter around the table and swap of stories. This time makes me feel as if time has stopped to enjoy the moment as we remove ourselves from our busy lives. Pretty soon the meals around the table will be less frequent as my daughters get ready to navigate their own journeys within higher education. I don’t want to miss any opportunity to share with my family. I also enjoy exploring the outdoors together as a family. It is what really refills my cup.

If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be any fictional character. I do not want to be anyone else but me.

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