Brandy Arellano’s five years as an online Master in Counselor Education student is coming to an end, but the impact of her time at NC State is already proving to last. While splitting her time as a graduate student and a full-time program manager at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center for Global Initiatives (CGI), she applied her studies in College Counseling and Student Development to provide students with the best support possible.
A passion for working with students from all walks of life led her to graduate school. While counseling students from marginalized backgrounds, she realized that theoretical and evidence-based training was the missing link that would strengthen her practice. After lengthy research, NC State’s Counselor Education Program stood out for its student-centered approach and non-traditional structure, among other features.
“The value of educational access, affordability, and empowerment were inherent in NC State’s program,” says Arellano.
For a working professional like Arellano, NC State’s ability to offer an affordable, high-quality education made all the difference. She worked through her degree mostly one class at a time, a schedule that promoted her success in school and out. In fact, her work and school lives acted as a positive feedback loop, each enhancing the other.
At work, she immediately applied skills as she learned them in the program. One of the most impactful strategies she implemented was building rapport. As a former financial aid counselor, this helped her make connections with students while they navigated delicate topics and conversations. Combined with lessons in choice, solutions-focused and feminist theories, the student-facing approach yielded clear benefits.
“Through building rapport, actively listening, and better understanding systemic issues, I was better able to support students and communicate options efficiently,” she says. “Now, as a program manager, I work one-on-one with students discussing barriers, goal-setting, and exploring ways to overcome challenges through a growth mindset.”
At school, work provided pertinent discussion material that not only improved Arellano’s learning, but that of her peers. The class benefited from in-depth analysis of real-world scenarios, and Arellano received feedback that could be directly applied to help her students. Sometimes, these experiences developed into subject matter for her papers and projects.
“Anytime I was able to overlap work and school, it helped me be successful in both roles more efficiently,” she recalls.
Arellano not only carried her studies into the workplace, but around the world. On a short-term study abroad trip to China with Professor of Counseling and Program Coordinator Siu-Man Ting, and a diverse group of higher education students from across North Carolina, she engaged hands-on with China’s education system and culture. The group combined unique perspectives and techniques to help their host teachers develop skills to motivate and connect with their students.
Studying abroad also exposed Arellano to some of the greatest challenges that arise at the intersections between work, school and home. While she generally kept to one course per term throughout her degree, travel preparations overlapped with a busy semester of two courses, amounting to a heavy workload of a full-time graduate student in addition to her full-time job. Between work and school, she had little time for family, a development that proved difficult.
“I had to cope with my decision and push through the semester, but I learned about my limits,” Arellano says.
Strong support systems at home and at NC State rallied behind her during this time. When she needed to devote extra attention to her home life, the program helped, rather than hindered her.
“My faculty and staff and NC State were extremely helpful and flexible,” she says. “My family was also very supportive in encouraging me, taking on additional responsibilities at home, and reminding me why I was doing this program.”
Arellano was part of a close network of supportive peers. Once classmates, these individuals have now become professionals working in the field. She is sure to keep in touch with the people that shared this experience with her by chatting on social media, sharing job opportunities and introducing each other to colleagues. Arellano eventually hopes to join forces with her peers and co-present at conferences. Together, they maintain a special bond rooted in NC State’s College of Education.
“We support each other in our journeys, then congratulate each other as we grow and fulfill our goals,” she shares.
Arellano also credits Ting and Online Program Coordinator Angie Smith for changing her perception of online education and their tireless commitment to her success. She began her time at NC State pursuing the online Graduate Certificate in Counselor Education, but continued on toward the full degree at the advice of her professors. She references their individual efforts to make the program exceptional and to support students both inside and outside the classroom as significant factors in her success.
“Dr. Smith has an incredible way of remembering so many details about my life, despite having so many students. She is one of the only educators who made me believe that I can succeed in graduate studies… She has also modeled how to balance work and life.”
Arellano continues, “Dr. Ting has this drive to make NC State the best Counselor Education Program it could be. He also created and led study abroad opportunities to help students like me develop the global competencies that can help each of us succeed.”
She considers these professors incredible assets to NC State and counts herself lucky to have learned from them.
Arellano looks forward to all of the opportunities the program and her practical experiences have opened to her, from the chance to pursue a doctoral degree to exploring the private sector and new professional experiences. But for now, she’s celebrating.
“Both my husband and I will be graduating on the same day. He is graduating from North Carolina Central University. Our families, who are all in Florida, will be coming up to North Carolina to celebrate with us!”
Are you interested in an online and distance education program at NC State? Visit online.ncsu.edu for a complete listing of program, certificate and licensure opportunities.