Our hope at The Seattle School is to be led by our alumni and their stories—how they embody text, soul, and culture among the people and communities they serve. Dr. Kristie Williams, MACP ’05 has been an incredible leader on our alumni quad, a team of alumni advisors and allies to our alumni community. She is full-time faculty at Walden University in the Clinical Mental Health Department as well as in an affiliate at Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center. In this reflection, Kristie describes how her personal experience and her time at The Seattle School helped guide her outside-the-box journey into a career focused on social justice. For current students, she shares her advice on how to know when to take the leap and explore new paths for personal and vocational growth.
I graduated from the Seattle School, known as Mars Hill at the time, back in 2005. Seeking to be closer to family, I returned to Ohio. I had hoped to sit for my license in Ohio shortly after my return, but soon found out that state requirements would require me to take additional coursework to do so, and I was heartbroken. As a result, I worked for a few years as both a Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor and a Case Manager for a local Psychiatrist. I also began to volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), and became a Group Instructor and eventually a National Facilitator training new instructors. Serving and working with clients and their families in a teaching and mentoring role reminded me how I truly wanted to utilize my Counseling degree. As a result, I enrolled in a Ph.D. program at the University of Akron to earn my Doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision.
Recognizing the competitive nature of gaining a Graduate Assistantship within the Counseling Program. I knew I would need to think outside the box. As a Case Manager, I recalled attending a meeting in support of one of my clients who required accommodations in college based on a diagnosis he was managing. This meeting happened to be in the Office of Accessibility at the same college I’d been accepted for the doctoral program. Remembering how kind and attentive the person conducting the intake was, I thought to myself, it would be great to serve students in the same manner. So, I wrote a letter of interest and submitted it with a resume to the office to see if they accepted graduate assistants. After gaining an interview with the Director, I was asked, if offered the GA position, would I be open to managing a caseload? That began my journey. During my time with the college, I began as a graduate assistant, but was later promoted to Disability Specialist and ultimately Director. I truly felt honored to have been given the opportunity to work not only at the institution but also with NAMI because it allowed me to work with students, veterans, parents, faculty, and staff. It also gave me the opportunity to not only counsel, but to teach which is something I absolutely love and am extremely passionate about.
I have always had a love of learning and education. It is something I’ve always felt is a tool and an answer to almost every concern. Yet I realize you have to be open to enlarge your territory and to recognize that you can always learn something new. Upon graduation from my Ph.D. program, I sought out and applied for a fellowship opportunity and was accepted at Ursuline College. There I was given the opportunity to teach a number of classes including a class on Diversity and Community. This course rekindled yet another passion, which was to create spaces for candid conversations on race, equity, inclusion, and social justice. It also supported a desire to address two very important topics: domestic violence and racism. You see, while at The Seattle School, I not only completed a degree in counseling, but I also obtained a certificate in domestic violence advocacy. During my time at the Seattle School, two individuals that I was most inspired by were Dr. Nancy Murphy who taught the Domestic Violence course and Dr. Caprice Hollins who taught the Multicultural Counseling course. I continue to be inspired by them to this day and will forever consider them to be mentors. They both genuinely cared and helped guide and encourage me while in my graduate studies and beyond. I also feel in some way that God placed them in my path to not only guide me toward my career, but to help heal some of my brokenness as they modeled genuine love and compassion even in difficult times and spaces.
I believe it is for this reason that I ultimately came to a place where I now teach about the issues of power and control which is the root of both domestic violence and racism. I feel blessed to be able to engage individuals in teaching and learning opportunities that support diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. I have been able to continue to do this within my full-time role as faculty at Walden University in the Clinical Mental Health Department as well as in an affiliate role at Northwest Family Life Learning and Counseling Center.
With that stated, If I could offer any advice to students now, it would be to seek out mentors. It is wonderful to be connected to those that support and encourage us. It is also invaluable when we have mentors that have gifted us with words of wisdom when we need it. Still, there are those times when we have to trust God and the voice that He has placed inside of us. That’s the voice of wisdom and discernment that even in those times when it looks as if we are moving against the grain, we continue on. You know that voice, the one that when the world would have you place limits, it tells you to expand, to explore and to take a leap. That’s the voice that despite all odds knows that you can go further, do more and trust that there is a plan and it is greater than you know, think or could imagine. I don’t know about you, but that was the very voice that got me to Seattle in the first place. That was the voice that began my journey and led me to where I now am, still trusting and believing in God’s great love for me and the vocation and life he has called me to.