Newsletter Article

Psychology Alumni: Making an Impact in UW Advising

Photo of
Photo: [standing, left to right] Tory Brundage, Kathy Wong, Elise Dorough, Crystal Eney, Clay Schwenn; [seated] Christian Johnson

"One of my favorite parts of the work is that almost every day you're helping to make someone's life better - even if it's just in a small way - and that feels good.  I like to call advisors professional troubleshooters."
     Crystal Eney (BS 1999), Computer Science and Engineering

This sentiment is no doubt shared by Crystal's UW colleagues - including six other psychology undergraduate alumni currently working with students across campus.  Along with Crystal, Tory Brundage, Kattie Dang, Elise Dorough, Christian Johnson, Clay Schwenn and Kathy Wong all graduated from the Psychology Department and went on to put into practice the valuable skills and insights into human behavior that they gained as psychology majors.  Across the board, these seven advising and student services professionals cite knowledge and experiences gained as undergraduates as having been critical in identifying and preparing them for their professional careers.  And, all point to communication, collaboration and creativity as centerpieces of their work.

"It wasn't until I was a few years graduated that I discovered the world of student affairs and how perfect it was for me."
     Elise deGoede Dorough (BA 2006), Computer Science and Engineering

For most of the seven, undergraduate volunteer and work experiences served as the building blocks for their current careers.  As Resident Advisors in the dorms, Summer Orientation and Freshman Interest Group leaders, campus tour guides, peer TAs, and peer advisors, the group honed communication, presentation, interpersonal and administrative skills that would help them transition into the workplace.  Both Clay Schwenn and Kathy Wong served as peer advisors in Psychology.  Kathy recalls the "genuine compassionate philosophy of helping students achieve their educational and career objectives that drove the mission of the advising office," and notes that this still resonates with her in her daily work.  Among the alumni are graduate and undergraduate advisors and an admissions counselor.  In addition to their current departments, members of the group have also worked in Economics, Biology, and Student Athlete Academic Services.

"While my professional work is about human behavior, I still have a passion for eusocial insects, as evidenced by my dramatic reading of a story about rafting behavior in fire ants from last Saturday's paper to my long-suffering wife and two small children."
     Clay Schwenn (BS 1993), Undergraduate Academic Affairs Advising

You never know what will spark that intellectual passion!  In addition to being drawn to the study of human and animal behavior, members of the group point to a variety of reasons that led them to choose a major in psychology.  Both Tory and Crystal cite an interest in the complexity of human communication, while Tory also had a more personal motivation.  "I have a younger cousin who is autistic and very dear to me," says Tory, "and the interactions I'd had with him - coupled with my general curiosity for and fascination with the way people think, behave, communicate and develop - helped me to peg psychology as my primary academic interest since high school."  Christian, Elise and Kattie identify, among other things, a strong desire to help others, while Kathy points to an analytical nature as a driving force in her choice of major.

"The rat lab class - although perhaps more hands-on than I might have liked - really forced me to understand how to apply the principles learned in class, while at the same time challenging me to adhere to high standards of writing and record keeping which are of great use today in my work."
     Christian Johnson (BA 2007), College of Engineering

Photo of Christian Johnson
Photo: Christian Johnson (BA 2007), College of Engineering

All members of the group point to memorable experiences as undergraduate psychology majors that challenged them, stretched the boundaries of what they believed they were capable of, truly inspired them, and sometimes made them laugh out loud.  This last category includes Jaime Olavarria's chicken impression, used to demonstrate the bird's lack of binocular vision.  Also of note is Michael Passer's insight and spot-on advice, highlighting the importance of meeting one-on-one with faculty, Laura Little's efforts to help motivate a struggling student, and the lightbulb moment of finding one's academic passion in Mike Beecher's Animal Behavior class.  The alumni also singled out non-classroom experiences, such as volunteering, study abroad, and research as having had tremendous impacts.  "The UW is an amazing place with so many research opportunities," notes Elise, "and there will never be another time when you will be able to so easily explore the field."

"The discipline of psychology fed my desire to analyze and observe people and situations.  I applied the theories I learned in classes in my daily life and interactions with individuals, which enabled me to learn meaningfully."
     Kathy Wong (BA 1997), The Information School

Photo of Kathy Wong
Photo: Kathy Wong (BA 1997), The Information School

Statistics and methods classes - yes, statistics and methods - received high praise from the alumni as having been foundational to their studies and to informing their professional work.  Making solid, data-driven decisions, developing and working with assessment tools, being able to back up statements, and understanding what research is and how it is created are all important components of the work of these professionals.  Clay credits the Department with teaching him to think critically about behavior and the world around him, to write well, and to be precise in his explanations.  Strong analytical skills and a foundation for understanding human behavior come to bear in the troubleshooting aspect of advising that Crystal identified.

"The best part of my job is that I get to continually be around the intelligence and excitement of students as they navigate the college choice process."
     Tory Brundage (BS 2008), Admissions

For many of the alumni, having made the transition from UW student to staff allows for a unique perspective on the institution and enhances the service they provide to current students.  Christian sees himself as a natural advocate and cheerleader for the University.  Although an infrequent visitor to advising while she was a student, Elise now urges undergraduates to view advisors as a critical part of the learning process.  "Just stopping by to talk with an advisor can open up doors you wouldn't have otherwise seen," she says.  Having experienced UW in a way that most staff have not allows Tory to help prospective students to value the fact that the University is so large and diverse.  In addition to the dual student/staff perspective, the simple fact of years spent at the same institution can make one philosophical.  "Having been at UW for 23 years now, I can see that the institution does change over time," says Clay, "and it usually keeps the good stuff and lets the crummy stuff go by the wayside."

"Find something you are passionate about and get involved!"
     Kattie Dang (BS 2009), Near Eastern Languages and Civilization

Wise words from the most recent graduate among the group.  Other words of wisdom from the alumni include urging students to find a mentor, to attend office hours and talk with faculty, to take on an internship, to get involved in research, to be honest, and - always - to ask questions.  Lots of questions.  Kathy counsels students to "do what you love, do what you're good at, and do explore!"  This group of advisors and student services professionals all lived out their student experiences as curious, interested, and active participants in their education.  They are now uniquely positioned to help current students to follow suit.  A final and revealing observation from Clay, the most veteran member of the group...

"Students who float through UW don't do much for me; I like the ones who make waves."