Cool in a Crisis


Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: May 20, 2010

Courtesy of the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs

She tends to work the graveyard shift because of her schedule, and to tell you the truth, counseling psychology doctoral student Jessi Hoskins '05 wouldn't have it any other way. Aggies in crisis, some even contemplating suicide, are more likely to call the Student Counseling Service HelpLine in the lonely nighttime hours, when there's no one else to reach out to. When they do, Jessi is there-cool, calm, compassionate, and ready to help.

"Working on the HelpLine was one of the big things that affected me as an undergraduate," she says, "and it continues to affect me. It still scares me to death [when a suicidal student calls]; the adrenaline pumps every time. But I learned I can keep a cool head in that kind of situation, and the opportunity to make that kind of significant impact in someone else's life is amazing." She found it so rewarding-"a feeling like no other I've experienced"-she decided while still an undergraduate she wanted to build her future career around intense, crisis-oriented work. From there on out, it was a simple matter of identifying the right field of specialization. Or maybe not so simple. "The Hardest Thing I've Ever Done" Her first plan was to teach in special education, working with children with affective behavioral disorders.

So, after graduation she signed on with Teach for America, a program that recruits "outstanding recent college graduates from all backgrounds and career interests to commit to teach for two years in urban and rural public schools" in low-income areas. Jessi wound up in North Carolina, teaching a self-contained class-meaning she taught all subjects-made up of children in grades six through eight. Her youngest student was eleven, the oldest seventeen. All had been diagnosed with emotional and behavioral disorders, and many of them had secondary diagnoses like ADHD or cerebral palsy.

Needless to say, it was a challenging two years. "I knew it was a difficult position when I accepted it," she recalls, "but I figured you can do anything for two years." She pauses, before continuing quietly, "It was the hardest thing I've ever done; it definitely tested me. There were days I questioned my decision. But I'm glad I saw it through for the kids' sakes; it's one of the things I'm most proud of." Even though more than half her students got the highest possible score on their state English exams-an accomplishment nobody but Jessi thought possible-she realized teaching wasn't for her. Every day was a struggle; she just didn't feel she had a natural ability for it. The Katy, TX, native decided to take a long step back and re-examine her options. After thinking it over, she realized she still wanted to work with people with disabilities, but the age group and focus had changed. "Now I'm looking at veterans," she explains. "A lot of them enter a VA with a spinal cord injury, a brain injury, a wound of some sort from ammunition or shrapnel. But there's also this emotional factor-PTSD, depression, anxiety-and that's what interests me. The combination. How you treat the whole person."

Decision made, it was time to go back to school. Aggieland Redux Jessi's return to Aggieland was a near-run thing. Dr. Brossart in Counseling Psychology actually called to offer her a slot the day after she FedExed her acceptance to University of Houston-Clear Lake. She smiles as she remembers. "He said, ‘I don't mean to rush you, but I need an answer by five o'clock.' I thought about it for a second, and I thought, ‘Well, I can take two hours and pretend to think about this, but honestly, I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to hang up, call Clear Lake, and tell them I changed my mind. I'm going to A&M.'" Teaching never came naturally, but Jessi definitely feels she has an instinct for the work she's doing now. Finding her niche was, she says, a direct result of her Teach America experience. "It guided me into something I believe I'm going to enjoy doing for the next 50 years. I'm making a difference. It's just night and day." Make no mistake, the work is challenging, especially the practicum at the Community Health Center, a low-income clinic that's often the last resort for people dealing with mental health issues while struggling to pay the bills or keep track of the kids after school. Although interns are always closely supervised by a licensed psychologist, the pressure can be intense. "It's good pressure, but there are a lot of challenges," Jessi concedes. "In addition to being a novice counselor still learning the ropes, you want to do right by your clients and really help them, because if you don't, there's no one there to catch them.

The work we do is important. We have to balance that awareness with the fact that we're still learning and may not know everything." But now that she's operating out of her strengths, a challenging day in grad school is maybe half as challenging as a day in that North Carolina classroom. Meanwhile, she continues to work the HelpLine. "Not many campuses have a HelpLine," she points out, "or if they do, they outsource it. It's kind of symbolic of the Aggie community spirit that we reach out to the most vulnerable members of our population. We help our own."

In addition to taking care of people, Jessi fosters animals from a couple of shelters. She "always has a litter of something" around the house, and her fridge is plastered with photos of her charges-there have been about 150 in the past 3 years. According to Jessi, fostering animals provides much-needed balance. If you would like more information about the Student Counseling Service HelpLine, please visithttp://scs.tamu.edu/emergency/volunteer.asp.