LU counseling student awarded first place in national essay contest

Lamar University counseling student, Jennifer Russell, placed first in an online national essay competition hosted by the American Counseling Association. Jennifer Russell

The competition aimed to recognize the insight of school counseling graduate students and the work of professional school counselors who interact with K-12 students. 

In her essay, Russell was prompted to write about personal and social issues in K-12 schools and how school counselors can best address them. Russell decided to narrow her topic down to social skills. She opened her essay with an anecdote of restless children in a public setting and went on to explain the struggles and importance of redirecting and correcting. Russell said she thought the topic was diverse enough to connect with readers of all ages. 

 “Funny enough, I got the intro from my experience flying home to see my family in Michigan over Thanksgiving. I had been mulling over several ideas in my head but had not settled on one yet. I kept asking myself, ‘What as a teacher, do I see kids struggle with the most?’ Russell explained. “What am I having to speak to them about multiple times with no real change in outcome? That's when social skills hit me - I see the struggles in my own boys and how there are barriers, like technology and functional communication.” 

Expected to graduate in December, Russell comes from a family of educators. Both of her parents are retired teachers, which led to her choice to start a career in curriculum. It was during her first few years working in education that she started to notice the need for mental health support on school campuses.  

“I always had an interest in behavior and worked closely with the school counselors on both campuses to which I was employed. I also saw a significant shift in the increased need for mental health support on campus after COVID-19, and noticed I was a teacher that seemed to form relationships with many of the students who struggled with behavior on campus,” Russell said. “Considering all of those details, combined with my excessive love of learning, school counseling became the perfect fit.” 

LU Counseling essay winnerAfter taking several circumstances into consideration such as juggling a career, home life and studying – along with being away from school for several years – Russell looked at several online school counseling programs before landing on LU.  

“The LU staff, admissions team, and Dr. McGough heading our program, have all been supportive and transparent, making my learning experience easy,” Russell said.   

Although the program is online, Russell’s fondest memory in the program so far has been the on-campus residency week that the department leads every semester.  

“I got to interact with many of my instructors face-to-face as well as make lifelong friends and colleagues through my residency group. Almost a year later, and those friendships with my classmates still hold strong,” Russell said. “I am most thankful for establishing that initial social support network for my future profession. Not all universities offer such a needed opportunity.” 

Russell has 10 years of experience in professional education. She has worked at Lamar Consolidated Independent School District for the past six years where she has taught second grade English Language Arts and Reading (ELAR), fourth grade ELAR, and Pre-K at Bentley Elementary School. She is currently an early childhood special education teacher. 

To learn more about the LU counseling department, visit