Coveted ASCA ambassadorship expands on Sam Walk’s education as a school counselor

by | Aug 13, 2018

The MEd student was one of 30 ambassadors chosen from a pool of more than 350 applicants for the national conference.

Sam Walk hopes to use his UMSL degree to work with middle- and high-schoolers, a vocation he is pursuing through the College of Education. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Sam Walk had never been to Los Angeles before this summer. When he did make the trip, he was drawn to different attractions than the average tourist.

Sure, he paid a visit to the Hollywood Walk of Fame and looked at all the stars, but he was more interested in what was going on inside the Los Angeles Convention Center. That’s where the stars of school counseling from around the country were giving talks on topics such as positive mental health education in schools, career development for students and college admissions counseling.

The 2018 American School Counselor Association conference is where the real action was for Walk, who is entering his second year in the University of Missouri–St. Louis College of Education‘s school counseling MEd program.

“I’m not a big city person. I was totally OK with getting to hang out with some cool school counselors,” Walk said, with a laugh. “Some people may think that’s kind of odd, but for me it was great. I had a blast.”

Walk was one of 30 ambassadors selected from an applicant pool of more than 350 students and professional counselors to work at the conference. ASCA picked up his hotel and conference fees and, in exchange, Walk helped stuff swag bags and worked in the bookstore. He also got ample opportunity to interact with the organization’s higher-ups.

At a meeting of nearly 3,600 people, there was plenty of learning and networking to be done for an aspiring school counselor.

“It’s a really energetic bunch,” Walk said. “It’s a lot of people who are really excited about their programs, excited to learn more about other programs and who want to talk to other people about it and get feedback from them.”

Walk has taken an unconventional path to becoming a counselor.

The Wentzville, Missouri, native got his bachelor’s degree in philosophy and religion at Truman State University – with minors in history and international studies – then earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Saint Louis University. For a time, he seriously contemplated becoming a Jesuit priest.

Then he found a new calling.

“The desire to do counseling has always resonated with me,” Walk said. “I really see it as a vocation, where it’s not just a job.”

Walk chose UMSL because of the reputation of its school counseling program and the academic rigor promised by its Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs accreditation. He spent his first-year practicum at Ritenour Middle School last spring and will be working with middle- and high-schoolers at St. Louis College Prep this fall.

Those are the age groups Walk sees himself working with in the future. The experience he got leading individual and group sessions at Ritenour was especially valuable in clarifying that vision.

“We had a boys’ social skills group, where we worked on things like conflict resolution but also what it really means to listen to another person and really breaking down a lot of components of respect and how to be a good friend to somebody,” Walk said. “A lot of the individual counseling was working with students, some of them who struggled with bullying, others with issues like depression. They’re a really good group of kids. They may be struggling with certain issues, but they have a lot of strengths, a lot of potential. And I’ve learned a lot from working with them, too.”

Walk’s desire to help shows itself in his service to the community as well. For the past two years, he has worked as a supervisor and production manager at the sammysoap all-natural soap store in Kirkwood, Missouri.

The company hires adults with intellectual disabilities and provides equal wages for their work.

“I’ve gained a much greater awareness of the social-emotional, educational and career development challenges that individuals who have disabilities can experience and the real importance of having a caring, supportive community that encourages you as you continue to grow both personally and professionally,” Walk said. “I’ve gained so much joy out of being a member of this community. I have grown as a result of these relationships, and this has informed the ways I meet and work with students as a counselor as well. I strive to meet all students where they are at with patience and compassion and guide them in their development.”

Assistant Professor Emily Brown served as Walk’s practicum advisor in the spring and was also his teacher during a class last fall. She supplemented his ASCA ambassador application with a letter of recommendation.

Brown says Walk is a quiet, thoughtful student, but he’s not timid when it comes to taking the initiative with his education.

“He is really committed to wanting to know and learn and grow in his skills,” Brown said. “He is reflexive and reflective on his work. One of the real strengths and goals of our program is social justice, thinking truly about what that means for our communities and, as school counselors, the ways that we enter into those systems and work to make a difference. I see in him, as I do in many of our students, this desire to grow an awareness and recognize the ways that we need to advocate.”

It’s how he found himself in Los Angeles this summer, among a sea of other school counselors, soaking up as much as he could about his vocation.

The movie star home tour could wait for another time.

“It was a really cool opportunity to meet different school counselors from all across the United States,” Walk said. “It was really great to hear about the different things that they were doing, what they were excited about for the next year and implementing different parts of their programs. I came back with a lot of different ideas for things I’d like to implement in my future as a school counselor. It was just really energizing.”

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