A Passion for Helping Students Find Their Passion

With more than 30 years of experience in career counseling, Spencer “Skip” Niles’ work with students reflects the Maya Angelou quote that appears on his email signature which says, “My mission in life is not merely to survive but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

Inspiring School Counselors
Inspiring School Counselors
A Passion for Helping Students Find Their Passion

This Week's Storyteller

Spencer Niles is a professor and former Dean of Education at William & Mary and the Senior Vice President of Career Planning and Development at Kuder, Inc. He has been a counselor educator for 36 years and an instructor at the University of Virginia and Penn State. Skip is the co-director of THRIVE Research & Intervention Center and the editor of the Counselor Education and Supervision journal.

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Matt Fleck:
Hi, everyone! Thanks for joining us for another week of the Encouraging Words for School Counselors podcast. I’m Matt Fleck with Inspire Success, a nonprofit which works to help those who help students succeed, including school counselors.

Our podcast again this week is sponsored by Kuder. Kuder ensures that people of all ages can unlock the power of their own potential and create a bright future!

Spencer Niles, who goes by Skip, is the Senior Vice President of Career Planning and Development at Kuder – but he’s also a professor at William and Mary, co-director of THRIVE Research & Intervention Center, the editor of the Counselor Education and Supervision journal and much more.

In his many years of experience, Skip has worked with a lot of students, but he recalls one story about a student he was working with at the Career Center at Penn State.

Skip Niles:
I met with this young guy who was working so hard to be an engineering student. I mean, he was just, he was just so, and you could see how stressed out he was about it, but he wasn’t doing well. And more importantly, he wasn’t enjoying it. He constantly felt like an outsider. And he didn’t connect with these people who he should be connecting with — his fellow students — and everything from just basic conversation to day-to-day coursework and all that. So we went through this assessment process that uses the system, the one that Kuder’s using, and kind of went through this. His results indicated that — to keep that analogy of birds of a feather flock together — he was flocking with the wrong birds. You know, he just was not in the place where he connected with the people he was trying to connect with just because of different interests and all of that.  

And as we’re going through this, I mean because it was just, so — he had such a sense that, “There’s something wrong with me that I can’t bridge this.” And as we went through this description and the brief description of this theory, what it was based upon, and how the results of his assessment indicated that he was really much more of a human services kind of nature. And he just started crying during the session because you get to see the whole sort of relief that, “Gosh, I’ve worked so hard to make this happen and thinking there’s something wrong with me, as opposed to maybe I’m not where I need to be.”

A very similar experience happened with another student of Skips who, ironically, was also studying engineering in college.

She was great in math and science. Wasn’t a question of whether she could do it, but she absolutely, absolutely hated it. But her dad said, “You will be an engineer like me, because look at all the things that you’re so great at this stuff,” but she absolutely hated it. So she tried to persevere, to honor her dad and to stay with, you know — there’s a lot of pressure towards: if you’re good at math and science and you can do engineering, then do engineering.

But like most of us, it often matters more what we LIKE or LOVE rather than what we’re good at.

Well, after the third time she attempted suicide, she was admitted longer term in a treatment facility. And she was able to make the — she made the same sort of transition out of that to a much more people oriented [field]. Now, I didn’t meet her until she had already made that, so she was telling me the story. 

Again, all to say how important I think the work of career development that school counselors do, that they’re really the frontline professionals, the only people, the only people in any school who have any training in the area of career development. And so often, unfortunately it gets pushed to the margins — I get it — for reading math, science, language arts — I get it. I mean, nobody would say those are unimportant. 

But the unfortunate thing is educators, parents, and students don’t often see the connection between when you help people get excited about what they can be, when you help people get excited about the possibilities for their future. When students have that sort of vision, personal vision, for their future, and they have a sense that there are these possibilities — not even anything specific — these possibilities I can move towards, that I’m excited about. They get more engaged as students, and then they’re  more successful as students, and they achieve more as students. 

So it’s all interconnected, but so often — frankly, especially in the United States, because I do work all around the world — we’re one of the worst in terms of disconnecting the whole idea of career development, career planning, and so forth with academic success. 

Skip makes a great point, one many school counselors understand all too well. It can be tough sometimes balancing the drive for academic success with helping students find something they’re interested in, that motivates and inspires them to keep going, no matter how well they do in school. 

Thanks for the reminder Skip and thanks to Kuder, Inc for sponsoring our podcast the last four weeks. Please take a few seconds to let them know you appreciate their support by visiting their website at kuder.com/inspire. Kuder, “leading the industry in career guidance and college readiness.”

I was driving home last night after a kind of tough day and wanted something positive to listen to on the way home, so I pulled up our Spotify playlist called Encouraging Songs for School Counselors and it was really great. But it’s time for an update! So we want to know: what song do YOU listen to recharge your batteries at the end of the day or a long week? Or what song gets you going in the morning. Let us know. Just a simple song title is all we need – send it to me at matt@inspiresuccess.org – and we’ll create a new  playlist and share it with all of you. 

Thanks as always for listening! See you next week.