Jennifer Rubacky Auchmoody
Bishop McNamara High School
How did you become the Assistant Director of College Counseling at Bishop McNamara?
After finishing my master’s degree in education and earning a Certificate of Advanced Study in counseling from the Harvard Graduate School of Education I was recruited to work for Prince George’s County Public Schools (MD) as a pupil personnel worker. In this role, I focused on preventing truancy and decreasing the rate of suspensions and expulsions at several targeted schools. After having my first child, I took a school counseling position at Bishop McNamara High School. McNamara is a Catholic, co-educational high school in the Washington, DC area. I love the unique spirit of our school, which I believe comes from the rich diversity of our students. Our students come from a tapestry of different economic, racial, and religious backgrounds.
When I began in the counseling department at McNamara I worked exclusively with the junior class, helping them navigate the academic and social concerns students face at that age. I also helped prepare them for the college application process. After a few years, our department reorganized and I moved into the newly created Assistant Director of College Counseling position to provide additional college application support for our seniors.
While the titles I carry may seem a bit disjointed on paper, in reality the work I do as the Assistant Director of College Counseling is a continuation of the passion I have always had -- to use education as a vehicle to help young people move beyond the challenge of the moment.
You’ve done a lot of work toward sexual violence prevention. What got you interested in this field?
I took a class called “Child Abuse and Neglect” as an undergraduate psychology major at James Madison University. My professor, Dr. Hilary Wing-Richards, in her wisdom and due to the obvious heavy nature of the subject matter, required each student in the class to perform community service hours working for the betterment of children. I chose to complete a 40-hour sexual assault crisis hotline training course run by The Collins Center (formerly Citizens Against Sexual Assault) in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Once I completed the training I stayed on as a volunteer for the organization. Not only did I answer calls on the hotline, but I also became a victim support advocate at the local hospital. The hospital contacted our office when a sexual assault survivor or suspected survivor presented at the hospital. I helped the survivor navigate their options at the hospital and with law enforcement by providing initial information and support and then follow-up crisis counseling.
I felt called to the work I was doing with sexual assault survivors, but was even more invigorated by the opportunity to do prevention work as a full-time Education Coordinator at The Collins Center. I loved going out into the community to engage young people in conversations about healthy relationships, dating violence, and self-advocacy. Often these subjects are taboo and so young people are left to figure things out on their own without the support of trusted adults. After starting a club at a local high school in which I trained students to be healthy relationship advocates in their school, I realized that I wanted to work full-time in a high school. I believed that if I could have sustained daily interactions with young people I could support them through the inevitable difficulties of life by fostering their capability for resiliency. I did a little research and found the Harvard Graduate School of Education had a program called Risk and Prevention, now called Prevention Science and Practice, and I knew it was where I needed to go.
While studying at Harvard, I was able to work on campus as a Proctor for the Freshman Dean’s Office and intern with the Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (OSAPR), carrying on the work I was doing at the Collins Center with students at Harvard. My formal and informal experiences at Harvard strengthened my resolve to help young people, especially marginalized populations, reach their fullest potential by cultivating resiliency and grit. I cannot stop life from being hard, but I can strive to make it a positive growing experience.
How does NACAC play a role in your career?
NACAC allows me to be a student of our profession. When I first began formal college counseling, I turned to NACAC to help me to get started. I used the tools and resources available to members to help me learn what I did not know about the application process. I now use NACAC to stay up-to-date on the latest college news and trends. The networking that I am able to do through NACAC and my local Potomac and Chesapeake Association for College Admission Counseling (PCACAC) has not only helped me grow professionally, but it has also helped me to raise the profile of Bishop McNamara and our amazing students to college admission representatives throughout the country.
Do you have any advice for professionals who are new to the field?
Get to know your students. Every young person has a unique story waiting to be told; however, in my experience they are not always especially adept at sharing their stories. I think we often assume that, because young people are growing up in a social media generation, they are used to oversharing their lives, but the reality is much more complicated. I have seen students neglect to share the most important moments of their high school lives because they are too nervous to come across as boastful or arrogant. In my experience, this fear happens frequently in underrepresented populations. As college counselors, we get the opportunity to help young people take pride in their stories.
Also, open yourself up to the networking possibilities available to you through NACAC and your local chapter. I attended my first PCACAC conference last year and decided to volunteer to work at check-in as a way to meet people. I’m so glad I did. Not only did I meet colleagues I now call friends, but I was also able to get involved with an organization I was new to.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing counselors today?
I am going to tackle this question from the perspective of a counselor like me, who works in a college-prep high school in which 100 percent of my students matriculate to two or four-year colleges. (When I worked in a public school system that did not have the same college-prep expectations, my biggest challenge was helping students and families recognize the importance of a strong primary and secondary education as a tool to achieving acceptance into post-secondary schools.) The biggest challenge facing counselors today is really the challenge that our families are facing with college affordability. In my experience, the two ends of the financial spectrum -- students with the most financial need and students that are able to pay full tuition -- are able to afford college. I am most concerned about students that fall in the middle. I see the working middle-class struggling to figure out how they are going to be able to afford a college education.
When you aren’t working, what do you like to do?
Since I commute more than two hours every day to my school, I am a bit of a podcast junkie (check out Malcolm Gladwell’s “Revisionist History”). In fact, I have even bonded with fellow college counseling colleagues during robust conversations about their favorite podcasts. When I am at home, as the mom of two young daughters, my favorite thing to say is, “Let’s go outside and play.” Watching my girls run around the neighborhood is one of the best ways to end my day. I like to stay active too. I rotate between running, swimming and Pilates every morning to give me enough energy to get through my busy day.
If you could be any fictional character, who would it be and why?
Nancy Drew. Nancy Drew was the first book series that I fell in love with as a kid. My mom gave me her entire Nancy Drew collection from when she was a kid and reading those novels inspired me to become a voracious reader. Nancy was a strong, independent teenage role model, and I thought she was extremely clever to be able to solve the many mysterious happenings that occurred in her small town. I too enjoy wrapping my brain around tough problems.
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