Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Nontraditional Student Earns Master of Arts Degree; Accomplishes Lifelong Goal

Left to Right: Sherma Albert-Ferdinand, Dr. David Hall, Robert A. Beck and Juliette Heddad-Mille

Robert Beck, originally from Southern California, was among the first three students to graduate from the University of the Virgin Islands after earning the new Master of Arts Degree in School Counseling and Guidance. This program grew out of the Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in guidance and school counseling.

“It feels like a really big accomplishment,” said Beck. “To finally have both degrees offers a great sense of closure and opportunity.”

Beck chose to retire to the U.S. Virgin Islands after serving more than 43 years as a railroad worker and union officer who represented and counseled co-workers, because UVI invites senior citizens to take classes for free. He barely graduated from high school and did not think of himself as college material. Nevertheless, his interests in literature and history inspired him to find a junior college without entrance requirements.

Beck started taking college courses and immediately excelled, which led him to believe that he was either a late bloomer, the presentation of high school material had been ineffective for his learning style, that he had received defective counseling – or all of the above. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) after completing one last English class at UVI. In 2007 he started to take classes at UVI in multiple subjects while mentoring fellow students. He discovered while doing independent studies with professors in marketing and history that he had the ability to do academic research.

Later, when a beloved professor encouraged him to pursue a master’s degree, he chose the Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in Guidance and School Counseling. Even though he had no background in education, he had a strong interest in psychology and counseling. He also thought that he might be helpful to youngsters who could benefit from the attention of a caring and insightful adult.

“I enjoy being retired and am not looking to work full-time,” said Beck. “But I do plan to volunteer, and am pleased with the preparation I received through both degree programs.” Beck continued, “I look forward to working with and hopefully inspiring young people who don’t see futures for themselves in which higher education plays a role. I didn’t think I could go to college, but I did. I could do it, I know they can, too.”

The other two students who earned the new 48 hour degree are already gainfully employed by the public school system on St. Croix. Juliette Heddad Miller is the assistant principal at Ricardo Elementary School. Sherma Albert-Ferdinand is a high school counselor at the St. Croix Educational Complex.

The Master of Arts in School Counseling and Guidance is a rigorous program designed to prepare aspiring school counselors to become strong and effective leaders, capable of facing challenges in a changing world. The program provides students with professional and pedagogical knowledge and skills in core requirements, and a solid content knowledge in the area of school counseling and guidance. Individual courses are aligned with the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) standards, thus ensuring that the program represents a synthesis of content and experiences required for successful practice.

The new program also allows students to take the same CACREP approved courses that are offered through colleges and universities on the U.S. mainland, guaranteeing that the degree is at the same level of those offered in the United States. As the program meets the requirements for CACREP accreditation, UVI can now choose to submit an application for CACREP approval.

The new degree creates competitiveness with similar programs offered elsewhere, mandates a higher entry level salary and opens up more job opportunities. It also qualifies graduates to take the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC) National Counseling Examination as a first step to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), which Beck just did.