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Featured Spotlight

Understanding their own background is key to helping college students succeed

July 17, 2012

Heather Atkinson photo for Spotlights page--CGPS

As a student services specialist at John Tyler Community College's Chester campus, Heather Atkinson M.S.Ed. '08 said the best part of her job is seeing prospective college students increase their confidence and succeed in their education.

"It is not unusual to meet prospective students who have held off even visiting campus because they are so apprehensive about starting or returning to college," she said. "I love that I get to play a part in a student's transition from being fearful about college to becoming part of the campus community and successfully completing course work."

In addition to meeting with prospective students, Atkinson advises current students on academic program requirements, transfer to four-year colleges and universities, and career development. She also presents workshops related to study skills, participates in community events and teaches the course College Success Skills.

While she loves working with a diverse population of college students who have a variety of goals, Atkinson said she didn't always want to work in a college setting.

"I had never worked in the field of education prior to starting Longwood University's graduate program in school counseling," said Atkinson, who earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Mary Washington in 2005. "I knew I had a strong interest in academic counseling, and I thought I was leaning toward working in a high-school setting. But I found in my job search that I increasingly favored positions in higher education."

Practicum experiences in the program helped Atkinson get a sense for what different work settings would be like. She also said her course work also helped her gain an understanding of different cultural influences and how her own beliefs can affect her work with students.