Gabi Scheff M’22 has found a new path at Merrimack, coming off a decade-long career in the entertainment industry to pursue her master’s in clinical mental health counseling. But she is not just a student — she’s one of our incredible grad fellows, working within the Office of Multicultural Initiatives. Gabi joins us today as a very special Working Warrior, to discuss the CMHC program, her career plans post-graduation and why her fellowship is so crucial.
Hi Gabi! Thanks for joining us today, especially as one of our first spotlighted graduate students! Can you tell us about what you’re studying? What is your program, and what does it entail?
I’m currently working towards a master’s of science in clinical mental health counseling (CMHC). It’s a two-year program with an integrated practicum and internship, which will prepare me to pursue Massachusetts state licensure. It’s an action-packed program that combines theories of psychotherapy with application, ethics, and a healthy dose of cultural competency. Ultimately, this program will enable me to become a licensed mental health counselor and work in a variety of settings as a therapist.
And can you tell us about your fellowship, as well? How did you find this position, and why is the work you’re doing so crucial?
You might not expect a mental health counseling student to find specific applications for their studies in student involvement and programming, but that’s why I find this fellowship to be so important and timely. Multicultural Initiatives is a relatively new facet of the Office of Student Involvement (OSI). It promotes cultural programming and inclusivity, as well as diversity awareness, and a wide variety of student, faculty, and staff training opportunities on the subject. Even though I was a late applicant to the CMHC program, our program director, Dr. Michael Mobley, was incredibly proactive in securing me a fellowship placement.
When the opportunity arose to interview with OSI, I was unsure of how I could best use my current skillset and growing knowledge base to help; but upon discussing the ambitions of Multicultural Initiatives, the importance of this combination became apparent. With a growing awareness of how culture and social identity can affect a person’s mental health, having the opportunity to engage this awareness at an interpersonal level intrigued me and continues to be a fun and productive challenge. I believe that student programming and peer education that supports and celebrates a diverse student body is paramount in creating a home away from home.
It’s an interesting combination of, to be sure! Is there any overlap between your program and your fellowship, in terms of areas of interest and applicability?
During our first semester of the CMHC program, we’re enrolled in a class titled “Diversity and Culture in Counseling.” Merrimack’s emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initially drew me to this school, and the CMHC program’s continued reinforcement of this awareness sealed the deal. Having the opportunity to engage with Merrimack’s community and combine all of these timely and (in my opinion) overdue concepts through my fellowship has been the icing on the cake. Through my program, students are encouraged to develop cultural competence and humility, and through Multicultural Initiatives I am able to apply those concepts to student programming and campus activities. I have also been working alongside my supervisor, Peter Rojas, coordinator of Multicultural Initiatives, to refine and facilitate diversity awareness training programs that can help these concepts reach students who are curious about allyship and advocacy. Multicultural Initiatives also works closely with Dr. Simona Sharoni to highlight DEI in full-blown campus wide events and initiatives.
When you finish your program, what do you hope to get out of your experience, both as a student and a fellow? What are your future career goals?
When I chose to pivot into graduate studies from a decade-long career, I chose to fully immerse myself in this educational experience. Pursuing a fellowship followed naturally. Since childhood, I have learned by doing, so I am seizing this opportunity to gain experience and context for my work at every possible chance. I firmly believe there is something to be learned in every challenge, however small. Ultimately what I’d like to take away from my fellowship and graduate experience ought to balance with what I leave behind; I’d like to take away these immersive learning experiences and academic networks, and I’d like to leave behind some stepping stones for whoever steps into this fellowship next. Weaving cultural acceptance, awareness, and celebration is big work, and it will still be big work for a long time.
My future career goals involve bringing counseling full circle to my former career. I spent my undergraduate experience and first career working as a touring theatrical and concert lighting designer and technician. It’s a niche industry full of incredibly hard workers who are, by trade, invisible. Seeing folks who thrive in a demanding work environment hit a wall when the pandemic wiped out the entertainment industry was incredibly difficult. This firsthand experience inspired me to help fill in the gaps where there is little support for such a population; I hope to bring my future practice back to help my community on the road. These are certainly lofty aspirations; state-by-state licensure and logistics will be something to contend with, but raising awareness and advocating for license portability may just be part of the work.
Do you have any faculty/staff/people at Merrimack that you’d like to shout out, and any advice to share?
Who doesn’t deserve a shout out at Merrimack? Holler to Team Multicultural Initiatives with Coordinator Peter Rojas and intern Sam Frey, as well as the whole crew at the Unity House who welcomed a total stranger into their fold for the year. Thanks to the incredible OSI office as a whole, who hustle to make sure students have engaging and COVID-safe events to attend, and out-of-classroom learning opportunities. (Like Diversity Awareness Training! Shameless plug!)
One piece of advice: It costs nothing to be kind. We never know if the person we’re holding the door for will be the person interviewing us upstairs. We never know what the person across the cafe counter is going through. If it costs nothing to be kind, why not?