Alumnus of the Month – Crystal Ellis


Crystal Ellis is curious about the social and emotional development of children and is intrigued by how children communicate their feelings and experiences. Crystal earned her BA in Liberal Studies and Multiple Subjects Teaching Credential from San Francisco State University and taught at a private elementary school for ten years. This experience had a profound impact on her, “I saw the amazing potential of the individual child and saw the beauty in reaching one’s potential at one’s own pace.” After teaching, Crystal volunteered in Romania working to help cultivate positive relationships with children that had been traumatized and neglected. These experiences eventually led Crystal to Portland State, where she received a MS in Counselor Education and a graduate certificate in Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy.

For the past seven years Crystal has worked for North Clackamas School District, with three of those years spent as an elementary school teacher. Currently, Crystal is in her fourth year as a school counselor and behavior interventionist at Oak Grove Elementary School in Milwaukie. Her work there includes integrating the school’s PBIS and RTI systems, overseeing behavior interventions and small groups, and working with parents to best support struggling students. Crystal was instrumental in bringing a full time mental health intern to Oak Grove to serve their most needy families and works closely with the staff at the two surrounding high schools to bring volunteers and mentors to work with students.

How did you break into the field?
The GSE continues to support my work and professional development. After graduation, I pursued my Marriage, Child and Family Therapy certificate. I have taken many courses in the school counseling series, particularly around trauma and brain development. I am particularly grateful for the relevant courses offered. I plan to pursue my LPC and will begin work towards that license this spring.

What has proven to be the most useful thing you learned while at the GSE?
The clinical experience continues to be the most useful and profound piece of my learning thus far. As a student, I was skeptical and uncertain of the relevance. Not a day goes by that I don’t use the skills acquired during my clinical experience. I am forever grateful for the richness and depth of learning resulting in personal and professional growth.

What is the accomplishment in your career that you are most proud of?
The most amazing part of my job is that I am given the daily opportunity to learn and grow through relationships. I get to support families through some really difficult moments. I am honored to be able to walk along side of the kids and families that I get to spend time with. I am honored to be able to share in life’s vulnerable moments with students and families. I have years of stories that nurture and support me, teach me, and humble me.

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 believe that impact can be measured in many ways and is valued by the recipient. The impact that the GSE has had in my life continues to be valued and manifest itself in the work that I do. The impressions that I have come away with shape and define my role as a school counselor.

How do you try to incorporate this concept into your daily work?
The nature and role of a school counselor is to advocate for students. At the GSE, I was reminded and encouraged to be a leader and advocate in every learning opportunity. The opportunities to mentor, be mentored, and connect with my colleagues set the stage for advocacy. As a school counselor, I practice making an impact on my community through my work advocating for student’s social, emotional, and behavioral needs.

Did you have a favorite course/professor/project while at the GSE?
I had many, many wonderful moments, some very exceptional and life changing. The common denominator is the people that were the facilitators of my learning. Rick Johnson helped me to connect to my truth. Thank you. Lisa Aashiem, I am grateful for your amazing leadership – you inspire me to be an ambitious and courageous leader. Don Mihaloew, thank you for teaching me to see relationships in a more beautiful and healthy way. Susan Halverson-Westerberg, thank you for reminding me of the value of my roots. And lastly, to my cohort, my esteemed colleagues, thank you for continuing to be my teachers in the field. You are all amazing and I am grateful for you every day.

What advice would you give students currently enrolled or recently graduated?
Let your light shine and the right thing will come along. Practice being uncomfortable and love yourself in those moments. People define strength in infinite ways. Notice how people are strong and persevere; they will teach you. Don’t be afraid to speak up. There is always a voice that needs to be heard and listened to. Believe in second chances. Don’t forget to appreciate all staff at your school. Everyone has an important job in educating a child.

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