a profile picture of Kimberly Frazier, ACA's 71st president
Kimberly Frazier, ACA’s 71st president

In the February column, I challenged you to reflect on the costs associated with answering the call of counseling, leadership and advocacy. I also asked you to consider what resources you might need to protect yourself from the costs of answering this call and pursuing your life’s work.

This month, I want to focus on one of my three presidential spotlights areas: mentoring. Mentoring ensures the counseling profession continues to grow by helping students, new professionals and others entering the field develop the skills they need to succeed. It also ensures the next generation of leaders, researchers, counselors and advocates understand past challenges so they are better prepared to shape the profession’s future.

With this focus on mentoring, I decided to interview Ashlei Petion, a member of the American Counseling Association who has recently made the transition from student to new professional. Ashlei is ACA’s Governing Council Student Representative and a past participant in the Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development’s mentoring program. She is currently completing her first year as an assistant professor of counseling at Nova Southeastern University. Ashlei and I discussed advice for graduate students and ways to make the transition from student to new professional easier.


Kimberly Frazier: As a student, how did you make the most of your time in your graduate program?

Ashlei Petion: There were a number of things I did to make the most of my time in graduate school. For starters, I earned an optional graduate certificate in marriage, couples and family therapy in my master’s program and an optional graduate certificate in qualitative research in my doctoral program. Although these additional trainings meant that I had to extend my program schedule and sometimes give up my summer breaks to take additional courses, I felt good about seeking that extra knowledge and experience when it was offered to me. Whether your program has a trauma track, play therapy courses or other specialties, you may as well do it while you’re already there.

I also had fun! I intentionally found ways to enjoy my programs. For example, I always took advantage of opportunities to get creative with assignments (e.g., performing a song/dance in place of an essay, creating a public service announcement-style YouTube video in place of a group presentation). I also made lifelong friends. In each of my graduate programs, my classmates and I explored the city and surrounding areas (e.g., went hiking, explored nightlife, had potluck dinners) and grew familiar with our communities (e.g., understanding the cultural history, engaging in community service). While in school, I viewed my classmates as my future colleagues, and I continue to maintain strong personal and professional connections with them today.

Instead of viewing your graduate program like a box to be checked in your journey to your dream career, view it as a unique experience all on its own. It’s chock-full of exciting opportunities just waiting to be tapped into!

KF: For students who would like to get involved in ACA, but aren’t sure how to do so, what advice would you give them?

AP: Get in where you fit in! By that, I mean (a) take advantage of ACA spaces that are specifically developed for students and (b) pursue spaces that are aligned with your interests, goals and values. ACA’s Graduate Student and New Professionals Committee exists for the purpose of connecting students across the country. It’s a solid source of support, being surrounded by folks on a similar trajectory as you. On the other hand, if you’re interested in play therapy and working with children, ACA’s Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling would be a great place to start. After officially joining that division, you will have access to its forum in ACA Connect where you can find loads of resources, information about meetings and events, and more. (This is the case for most ACA divisions and regions: You join, get access to its online forum via ACA Connect, and choose where you’d like to participate and get involved.) Another way to get involved is through your state division of ACA. While ACA overall is a pretty large organization, you might find it easier to acclimate yourself by accessing these smaller, more intimate communities that are geared toward your interests, which all make up ACA as a whole.

If all of this still feels daunting to you, then ask a professor in your graduate program which professional organizations they’re a part of. With your expressed interest, they may be willing to “take you under their wing” to help usher you into a division or branch that feels like it could be a good “professional home” for you.

KF: What were some things that helped make the transition from student to new professional easier?

AP: Holding membership and active involvement in professional organizations such as ACA, Association of Multicultural Counseling and Development, and Chi Sigma Iota helped me to smoothly transition from student to new professional because the resources are endless. From an interpersonal perspective, being plugged into professional organizations allowed me to network and secure multiple avenues for potential employment, which was one of my main foci surrounding graduation. Additionally, settings like affinity spaces, committee meetings and workshops served as spaces in which I could connect with other students who were on similar trajectories as well as seasoned professionals who could offer support and encouragement. These connections, I believe, helped me to stay motivated, well networked and supported during a naturally stressful, yet exciting, time.


I hope that this interview with Ashlei can inspire students and new professionals to keep pursuing their passion in the counseling profession. I also hope there are nuggets of information that can help ease your transition to your next stage. My challenge for those of you who are students or new professionals is to check in with your current mentor or take the steps to start looking for a mentor to help you with your professional journey. For more on ways to find a mentor, see my column in the November issue of Counseling Today. Until next month!