Alumnus of the Month – Marci Nelson

Marci is currently the Coordinator for the Center for Victims’ Services; a program of Washington County Community Corrections in Hillsboro, OR, which provides counseling and advocacy services to victims of crime. In addition to managing this program, she also provides direct counseling services to victims. Marci’s favorite part of her job is providing clinical supervision to graduate intern counselors. Prior to her current position,  Marci worked in Adult Protective Services in Multnomah County and also for the State of Montana.

“I am passionate about the effective leadership and supervision of ‘front-line helpers;’ believing that supportive leadership and a positive work culture contributes to more effective helping services and reduces compassion fatigue and burn-out.”

Marci is intrigued by restorative justice practices and encourages victims’ services and law enforcement personnel to think creatively, systemically, and preventatively.


How did you transition into the field after your graduate studies?

My work at GSE, and my ongoing strong connections to my graduate program, have been invaluable in defining my career and giving me the encouragement to reach my goals. Upon graduation, I was able to become employed very quickly because my graduate professors had provided me with very clear feedback about my skills and aptitude, which helped me articulate and demonstrate my qualifications to my employer. My professors have continued to be available and encouraging, moving from teaching roles to mentoring roles, and they have helped me build my readiness for my next adventure: earning a PhD in Counseling.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?

The most useful thing I learned was to seek out those whom I respect and who respect me, because it is these people who provide the most learning and encouragement. Education is not passive; it is not about sitting in a room and having knowledge spoon-fed. Instead, it requires the learner to reach out and ask for help, ask for knowledge, and take the initiative to make the most of the professors and peers who inspire the learner.

What accomplishment in your career are you most proud of?

I had been in a job that was a very poor fit for me and was experiencing a textbook case of “burnout.” The job had me questioning whether I should be in the helping field at all; a disturbing thought since I’d devoted so much time and money to earning a helping degree. I worked through a career self-help book called The Pathfinder and about the time I finished the book, and had a very clear idea of the kind of work I wanted to do and the kind of organization I wanted to work for, I found the job opening for the position I hold today. When I interviewed for this position, I didn’t try to guess at what they were looking for. Instead, I used my Pathfinder learning to tell them exactly who I was as a worker and exactly how I planned to serve. I’m most proud to be hired by a great organization based on my authentic self and my true passions and to work in a job that feeds my soul rather than eroding it.

The GSE strives to make an impact on our community through the work of our students, faculty, and alumni. What does the term “impact on the community” mean to you?

I’m a systemic thinker, so I go under the assumption that affecting one part of a system can impact the whole system. A PSU professor might go out of her way to encourage a student and help that student be an effective helper. The student graduates and works in a job where he’s able to help a family learn non-violent relationship skills. The children in that family grow up knowing how to build healthy relationships and spread this to others in their lives. The dad in that family decides to speak on a panel with other men who have learned to stop being abusive and maybe there is another man in the audience who decides to change. To me “impact on the community” isn’t about big obvious things, it’s about each of us at every step helping and encouraging others who in turn do the same. This creates a big impact.

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?

I’ve learned that I can help people in a variety of ways and my job allows me to be creative. I can help my counseling clients directly, but I can also help train and educate my student interns so that they can better help their clients directly. I can promote a work culture that is encouraging and supportive so that all the helpers have the energy to help others. I can go to a college class and educate a room full of people about healthy relationships and partner abuse, and in turn they can go forth and use what they know to help others. I am one person, but I’ve sought out work that permits me to work with a variety of systems from a variety of angles. I’m certain that this work spreads through our community system and makes an impact.

Did you have a favorite course, professor, or project while at the GSE?

In our lives, we experience an array of teachers. For the most part, they pass by us and we pass by them relatively unnoticed, doing what we need to do to move forward. If we’re really lucky, we stumble upon a teacher who makes a profound impact on us. For me, Russ Miars has been this teacher. He does not confine his teaching to the classroom but also makes himself available to his students and takes genuine interest in encouraging us individually; even giving students opportunities to learn and grow beyond the courses. He continues to be a mentor to me and a role model for the educator I plan to become.

What advice would you give currently enrolled or recently graduated students?

Make use of every experience, especially the uncomfortable ones, to build wisdom. Not every job is perfect, not every boss is supportive and respectable, and sometimes you will be very confused about where you are. That’s OK. There will be a time when you aren’t confused, when you’ve gained wisdom, and when you feel settled. And then there will be a time when you’re confused again. Make all of this useful and let it teach you.

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