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Friday, May 7, 2021

Q&A with Western Counseling Center’s new director, Shari Robinson

Photo courtesy of Shari Robinson
Photo courtesy of Shari Robinson

Shari Robinson, originally from Chicago, is the Western Counseling Center’s new director as of this past August. Robinson received her doctorate in counseling at West Virginia University and was previously the interim director of counseling and wellness at University of Florida. Robinson’s first professional position was as a social worker in Chicago before going back to school for her masters. Robinson said she likes working with students and the variety that comes with her new position.

Q: What does your job entail as the director of the counseling center?

A: I am the administrator of the counseling center. I’m here to advocate on behalf of the counseling center, to make sure the center is a resource, whether we are talking human resources and staffing, budgetary resources or operational costs. I am also here to handle and address any personnel issues, although I have a great staff. I am here to plan the vision for the center and I also serve as the chief mental health officer for the campus.

Q: When did you start your position here?

A: August 3, 2015. Next week will be three months.

Q: What sparked your interest in getting involved with services related to counseling?

A: I think careers evolve and develop. I have a Ph.D., so that means I have three degrees. My undergraduate degree is actually in social work. I was born and raised in Chicago. So my first professional position was a social worker in Chicago. I did that for a few years, and I enjoyed the work, but I quickly realized that social work has a very high demand. It was not as glamorous as I would have liked. That really motivated me to go back to school and get some more education. Obviously the more educated you are, the higher the salary, and you also have more career mobility. I went back to the University of Wisconsin to pursue my masters in counseling. That really opened the door. I did a practicum at University of Wisconsin Stout at their counseling center. I absolutely loved it. That’s when I had that “aha” moment that I think I really want to spend my career working at a college counseling center. I have the heart of a serving leader, so philosophically, this fits me. I love working with college students. I mean literally, I get to work with the cream of the crop in our society.

Q: What is a common theme students are struggling with that they may feel like they are alone in?

A: The counseling center creates an annual report every year. The last several years, our top presenting issues are stress and anxiety. No surprise. College is stressful. Life is stressful.  

Q: What have students taught you in your career of counseling?

A: A lot. I enjoy working with students. They keep me fresh and youthful. I like when students challenge me. Right now, I am really being challenged by [Western] students’ social activism. I am really trying to learn, study and observe what that is all about, what is fueling that and then how I can help. I think Western students are very socially conscientious.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job this far?

A: The variety. Every single day is different. There is never a dull moment.

Q: What made you interested in working for Western? Was the particular reason you decided to come here?

A: After about a decade at University of Florida, I felt like I wanted to do something differently, or at least at a different institution. Student enrollment at UF is 50,000. It’s big. My undergrad was at a very small, private liberal college and that was very comfortable for me. Although I had a very successful career at UF, I wanted to go something smaller. Western had a national search and I applied. They brought me in for the interview, and I must have done okay, because they gave me the job. I thought Western was a good fit for the next evolution of my career.  I am highly motivated and highly ambitious, so it’s all about what’s the next level for me.

Q:  What would you consider the most important part of your job to be?

A: I am succeeding the previous director, Dr. Nancy Corbin. I inherited a very stable center. I now have the opportunity to take a good center and make it great. I have a big vision for the center. Western is in a lot of transitional change. We are in the midst of a presidential search. It’s really exciting to be at the ground floor of this transitional change and to be a part of influencing where Western is going to next.

Q; Many students may perceive counseling to be a service for individuals who are going through extreme issues in their life. How do you think any student can benefit from counseling?

A: I think you are raising a really good point.  Another strategic goal is to increase and enhance the presence of the counseling center; coming to the center if you are experiencing high levels of distress, or if you get to the point that you are suicidal or you get to the point that you are simply not functioning. The goal is to not get you to this level of distress. Part of our work is to do some mental health promotion on campus.

Q: If students feel uncomfortable talking to a third party, how can they help themselves deal with stress outside of the counseling center?

A: Work towards a balanced lifestyle. I’m going to use the analogy of a pizza. There’s five slices of the pizza. Each slice represents a really important aspect of one’s life: mental, spiritual, emotional, social and physical. The goal is to keep those five slices equal and balanced. Very rarely are they all equal. People can sense when they are out of balance. That usually creates anxiety.

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