Today we feature Janine Edmonds, a graduate of Rowan University’s class of 2001 with a degree in Radio/Television/Film and a 2006 graduate of Rowan’s M.A. In Counseling Educational Settings program. Here, Edmonds tells us about her path returning to higher education and her experience as a guidance counselor for Oakcrest High School.
Did you always want to be a guidance counselor?
I did not always want to be a guidance counselor. [In] undergrad, I was actually a communications major, Radio/Television/Film; I wanted to be an on-air personality. I wanted to be that anchor woman or the weather girl. I was in that field for quite some time. I decided later on to go back into education and pursue a master’s degree.
What did you do prior to coming back for your master’s?
Prior to coming back, I was actually a talent agent. I worked on various different films. I was the talent agent for actors, models, anything from print to runway to, like I said, movies. So that was my job. And I ended up actually getting a teaching job at a Catholic school before I got into being a guidance counselor.
What was the reason for the career change?
The reason for the career change, I would say [was] that being on set, I had a lot of talent talk to me about their issues. They wanted to change their career pathway. And I saw myself giving a lot of advice, whether they were male, female, young adults. So I was thinking, like, this is something that I can see myself doing.
So I had a friend of mine that was actually a graduate of Rowan University and was telling me about the Counseling Educational Settings program. So I said, this is something that I think that I wanted to be a part of. So through [her] persuading me, and seeing the things that she does, I really fell in love with it. I decided to enroll in the program, and I got in, and the rest is history.
Why did you decide to attend Rowan University initially, and what made you come back for your graduate degree?
It was a no brainer from the very beginning, applying to Rowan as an undergrad student. If I were to come back for any other type of degree, it would be Rowan University. I didn’t see myself being fit in at any other university.
I think Rowan had the professors, it had the programs, whether I didn’t know what direction I was going, I just always felt at home at Rowan. So if I were to go back, I knew it was going to be Rowan University.
Rowan’s communications program, that’s what stuck out first as an undergraduate. It had, compared to a lot of the top colleges and universities, one of the top communications [and] radio/television/film majors in New Jersey. So that was why it was my first pick. And then later on, I decided this is the school that I wanted to go to.
While you were enrolled, what kind of educational experiences did you have that prepared you for your role now? Did you have an internship?
At Rowan University, I had a lot of internship opportunities. NJN Network was my first internship. That was during my junior year. Later on, I had an internship at MTV up in New York. So I was working for TRL. And doing the internship at TRL in New York actually set me up for the opportunity to have my first job coming out of college.
Can you talk about the EOF MAP program that you were a part of?
I was accepted to Rowan University, [and] part of the EOF MAP program. The EOF program is the Educational Opportunity Fund. It’s for students at an academic or financial disadvantage. And for MAP, it was the Minority Achievement Program. Those were for students that excelled academically, but when it came to SATs they did not have the scores to get in.
So I was part of that group in addition to the EOF students, and we did a six-week summer program. And I can say that was one of the best opportunities for myself coming in, because that transition from high school to college is huge for anybody.
This gave us the opportunity in six weeks to build relationships with other students from all over the state of New Jersey, or even PA, [and] it gave us the opportunity to take classes, know the campus life, even get to know professors at the time. So coming in late August, we knew exactly what we wanted to do. We came in there even applying to different positions, like being part of the SGA, Student Government Association.
Other people were like, “How do you have signs? How do you know people? How did you get people to vote for you?” We built relationships in the summertime. And I think that really got many students equipped [for] college life. I was definitely glad to be a part of that program.
Could you talk about the importance of the program, especially in today’s world?
It’s very important. We have students that are not the best test takers. We have students that, financially, they don’t have it to go to college. And what I mean by that [is], maybe their parents, they’re not in the best financial state. Again, this program gives those students that opportunity to set foot on a college campus. And I think by taking it away, you’d be giving that student a disservice.
So I think having that, at any New Jersey school, is one of the best things around. And like I said, I’m a product of it, and I owe it all to Rowan University’s EOF MAP program.
Could you tell us about being a collegiate athlete?
I went into Rowan as a soccer player, but I had a blood infection in my shin splints, which kind of injured me. Later on, I still wanted to get involved — not only in a lot of the activities and clubs, but I’m an athlete, so I went to Esby gym [and] spoke to Coach Fritz who said, “I know you were an athlete in high school. I know you’re a high jumper. You’re joining the team.”
Coach Fritz, he was the best person to actually talk to on campus. He was a mentor. He was a friend. He made sure that academically we were on top of everything. And I had the opportunity to do track and field all my years at Rowan University.
Do you see any opportunities to improve diversity on Rowan’s campus?
[There’s] always room for improvement, definitely, when it comes to race and race relations and certain groups that you feel a sense of belonging to. When I came to Rowan, [the] majority of the students [that were] part of the EOF program were of African American or Latin heritage, so we kind of stuck together. Again, it’s no one’s fault; we just gravitated to [each other]. And I came from a high school which was pretty diverse. But going there and seeing people that look like you, we just tend to gravitate towards one another. And again, with the African American Greek organizations on campus, of course, there’s a togetherness that we all have, and a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood.
I myself am part of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated Lambda Rho chapter at Rowan University. And we would always, of course, if we had mixtures or if we had any type of programs, it would be with our other African American and other Greek organizations. But other organizations and Greek organizations, we tend to kind of reach out [to] as well that were majority white or, let’s say, a white fraternity or a white sorority. We wanted to move past those barriers of, hey, stay with your own. But once again, there were clubs and organizations like NAACP; I was president for two years for the NAACP on campus. You had the Black Culture League, you had Mr. And Mrs. Black Rowan. I believe they don’t have that anymore, but that was a way that we could identify, [and say] you know, hey, we’re here. We had to represent some way in somehow at that time.
Again, times have changed, so I don’t know how it is on campus. But it’s just the way it is, where you feel a comfort zone sometimes with your own. But I always say just reach out, reach out to others, again, reach out if it’s a, you know, Hispanic organization, reach out if it’s just, like you said, a majority white organization. At some point in life, you have to mix it up. Life is a melting pot, you know. The world is a melting pot.
How long have you been a guidance counselor? What made you pursue this role?
I’ve been a guidance counselor for 16 years here at Oak Crest. I wanted to be a guidance counselor, because I wanted to change the world. I [still] want to change the world. And I knew, what better way than starting at a high school level?
Of course, I could have definitely done middle school or elementary school. But I think high school is such an important part of any adolescent’s life. I know for me, I always go back to my ninth grade year to my 12th grade year, and those are the most important years. My guidance counselor, she was great, but I didn’t have that relationship with her. It was more so where you’re applying to school, fill out the paperwork, or what are your classes.
I wanted to be that guidance counselor that wanted to build a rapport with students, a guidance counselor anyone can sit and talk to. So coming into this role as a guidance counselor, I just wanted to, like I said, change — I wanted to change a student. I wanted the student [to] know, like, look, if you don’t have that support at home, I’m here for you. I’m not here for you on a financial basis. But I’m here as far as the social, as far as the emotional support, as well as academic, of course.
I just wanted to be that voice for that student and be that liaison between that student or that teacher or the parent. That was my goal.
What is the day-to-day of a guidance counselor like?
Day to day, a guidance counselor’s job can change. I mean, there’s nothing that’s so consistent. We have a curriculum that we follow, of course — freshmen, we tell them about the transitioning period of them coming from eighth grade to ninth grade, we tell them about, you know, what to expect at a high school level. We check on academics for every grade level, ninth grade, 10th, 11th and 12th.
Tenth graders come in, they’re seeking some type of guidance as far as career. What kind of career am I going to do? What kind of major am I going to go into? We do a self assessment test for a lot of them to find out what their strengths are, their weaknesses, their interests, their values, their abilities. All of that is important, especially 10th grade year, because when junior year comes, that’s when we start thinking about, ok, we have one more year after junior year. You can either go into college, technical trade school, or employment. I’m not going to be the guidance counselor that says, hey, you got to go to college. But it’s definitely the best pathway for many students. Every student is different.
And my job, like I said, my job day-to-day is to get to know my students. That’s why you have some schools that [have] you as a ninth grade counselor or a 10th grade counselor. I stay with that student all four years. I’m going to build a rapport with them. Not only with them, but their parent or their guardian, and they get to know me to build that comfort zone. So day to day is very different. I can have a student that could be going through something emotionally, I can have a student that is dealing with death, I can have a student that academically, they’re struggling.
So your job is to set them up in the right direction, the right pathway. You can talk to them one on one, we have other resources here, we have a team center, we have what we call effective school solutions, where we have therapists, there’s other counselors as well, we all work together.
I’m a true believer that it takes a village. And kids from 10 years ago are different from kids today. So you do need that village. You need different administrators or personnel to actually help guide a student. If they’re not getting that support at home, they’re going to get it here.
Can you talk about the importance of school having a guidance counselor?
Schools are definitely going to need guidance counselors. I’ve always heard that, oh, your job is going to be obsolete. You know, now you have these apps now that you can actually talk to a therapist, you can talk to a counselor, there’s no need for guidance counselor. But that one-on-one interaction is key. That social, emotional support is key. That academic support is key. You’re going to need to know that there’s someone that you can come to, if you have [an] open door policy. That the student can come in to say, hey, I need help. They can’t do that while they’re home on a computer, you know.
It’s very hard to do things not in person, and I think guidance counselors … it’s a need for them to be in the schools. It’s a need to actually, like I said, to be that liaison for the parent, and the teacher and for the student. In any school district, students need to know that they can come to someone to talk to.
The teacher’s role is completely different than a guidance counselor’s role. Of course, they’re there for support, but they’re teaching a class of 25. If a student was to come in here, it’s one on one. Confidential, you know. What we talk about, unless it’s self harm, of course. But again, that one on one interaction with the student is needed. And to get rid of guidance counselors, I just, I don’t advise it at all.
How do you work with students to help them overcome any issues they may be having?
When speaking with them, I can say, I tread lightly. Because it depends on the situation. I do try to persuade them to open up to their parents the best way that they can, [but] some of them [are] just like, “Miss Edmonds, I can’t talk to my mom or dad.” So sometimes I have to put the mom hat on – I’m a mom of three girls.
And I’ve been in situations too. I’ve been there, done that. And I tell a lot of students there, I was a teenager, once. I’ve gone through a lot of situations, I’ve been through a lot of things that you guys wouldn’t even think. But I’m human. I don’t let them know too much, but I let them know my steps and what I had to go through, so you have to show them a little personality, show them that you are just not a teacher or educator, you are a human being. So you tell them a little bit more, you’re a little bit more open to them. I usually start with that.
And then at the same time, we go slowly as far as, ok, tell me why you can’t talk to your parents. Tell me why you feel this way. And then from there, we try to find different scenarios, different outlets, different things that they can do to improve their relationship with their parent if they want to talk to them, or I can steer them in a direction of different resources for help. Whether, like I said, it’s the teen center here or other resources outside of school.
What are some of the best parts of the job? Do you have a favorite memory that stands out?
God, so many memories. I always just remember kids coming back saying, “You changed me.” “If it wasn’t for you, Miss Edmonds, I would have just, you know, ran away from home.” So I wouldn’t say it’s a good thing, but it’s like, you feel good about yourself because you have purpose. It was a reason for you to choose the career path that you chose. And if I can change one life, I always say that’s rewarding to me.
So I think any student that graduates that can say, hey, Miss Edmonds was there for me, Miss Edmonds changed me — that’s the best part of my job.
And I can go back 16 years, to so many different stories of so many students. And the most rewarding thing is if a student is saying, hey, I’m a guidance counselor. So I have many students now that are guidance counselors because of me, and, you know, I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’m like, wow, that’s pretty cool. That’s pretty cool. So I’m proud of them. I’m proud of the path that they chose. And they’ll see in the end that they can change someone’s life just like I changed theirs.
What does being a guidance counselor mean to you? What impact do you hope to make before leaving the profession?
Being a guidance counselor has been one of the best things that has happened in my lifetime, from changing careers to meeting different people. But being a guidance counselor, like I said, has been rewarding. Being a mother is rewarding. Being a wife is rewarding. This career path that I chose has been one of the best things.
When I wake up, I can say, well, today is going to be a good day because I know that I’m going to change one life. No matter what I say, no matter what I do, at some point in time, there’s a way that I’m going to encourage that student. Somehow I’m going to make them laugh if they need laughter, depending on what they’re going to, you know what they went through. It’s just been, it’s been a journey. It’s really been a journey. And it’s not it’s not over! I still have years to go.
It’s been one of the best things that has really, really shaped me as a person. And I could say if people have success stories, this is my success story. Not what I did prior with other careers, this right here because I know that from the feedback that I got from the kids, and I should say, students, that I’ve had over the years has been the best thing.
And like I said, I came into this job because I wanted to change the world. And that’s something that I’m doing right now. And that’s something that I still want to do and proceed to continue doing throughout my life.
Listen to a conversation with Janine on the Beyond the Brown & Gold Podcast:
Like what you see?
Joseph Conte, junior community and environmental planning major
Ashley Craven, sports communication and media major