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Caitlin Stillwell

Caitlin Stillwell (Photo by Salley Salley)

Caitlin Stillwell ’05, G’06

Director of college counseling and the content director for College Seminar 11 and 12 at Uncommon Schools-North Star Academy Washington Park High School, Newark, New Jersey

BS Childhood Education and Special Education with a concentration in English and MSED Teacher Education

What led you into school counseling?

In high school, it was always something I was interested in studying but decided to study special education instead. When I was working for (Saint Rose), I went to lead a college essay workshop at a local high school in Albany with a college counseling team. This is when I realized there was a role where I could marry my love of college admissions with my love of teaching. I started looking for jobs in New Jersey and New York, which led me to the Uncommon Schools. In my role as a college counselor, I was able to teach the college process as well as utilize my knowledge of the admissions world.

You used to work for Saint Rose. Tell me about how you ended up in admissions and how that may have shaped your career path?

After graduating from Saint Rose in 2006, I taught throughout the Capital Region in a variety of different classrooms for about five years. I spent most of my time working with students with severe medical disabilities, which was very rewarding. I also taught in several general education roles as well. I returned to the College’s Career Center to help me figure out what pathways I could pursue. While wandering through a local job fair, I was getting frustrated and happened to stop at another institution’s recruitment table. I got to talking to their recruiter and learned about their role. This led me to look for recruiting jobs.

Through the graces of social media, I was able to reconnect with another Saint Rose alum (Jeremy Bogan) who was working in the Admissions Office. I spoke with him about the role and knew this was something I would enjoy doing. One thing led to another, and I found myself back at the place that I loved and felt like home to me. I was hired to expand our recruiting territories to New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Eventually, I also began recruiting in Puerto Rico as well. With the great admissions network I created in New Jersey, Puerto Rico, and Pennsylvania, I was able to learn more about higher education and college admissions, but I was missing the classroom and those interactions. After about five years and my experience with the local high school, I decided to start looking into college counseling positions so I could be in the schools again but still use my knowledge of admissions to help students find the right fit college for their future.

Did you work as a classroom teacher first?

Yes, I taught around the Capital Region for about five years after graduating with my master’s. I started off working in a self-contained, K-5, medically fragile classroom for students with special needs. I also worked in a first-grade and fourth-grade classroom as the general education teacher. I returned to the self-contained classroom with medically fragile students before transitioning to the college admissions role.

Does having worked at a college inform your work counseling students about going to college now?

Yes, I feel like it gave me an inside track to help students through the application process. It allowed me to network with admissions offices throughout the country to learn how other schools operate and what other majors are available for students. It also allowed me to see the music audition and art portfolio review firsthand. Working at the College has given me the knowledge to help students navigate the test-optional option, as well as make smart decisions about financial aid.

What do you love about your work today?

I love that I can help students with their post-high school plans. I love helping them find the best fit college that supports them academically, financially, and socially. Best of all, the students stay in touch and help us inform the next class on how they are doing post high school. I love seeing our students grow and learn through this process and really become the drivers of their own post-high school journey. Our students are so appreciative of the assistance we are able to give them. I truly love seeing my students’ dreams come true, especially when they are accepted to their top-choice college.

Why did you choose Saint Rose for your education degrees?

I chose Saint Rose immediately after visiting for an open house my junior year of high school. I remember walking across the street on Madison Avenue and being greeted by students and staff. It felt like a big warm hug and that was comforting to my family and I. I also chose Saint Rose for their reputation in education, especially in special education. I was not ready to leave Saint Rose when I began my master’s, so I continued my graduate degree with them and was able to complete it relatively quickly since my bachelor’s degree was completed there as well.

What was your experience like as an education student at Saint Rose?

I loved absolutely every experience I had at Saint Rose. I entered as a relatively shy and quiet person from high school but left a confident, well-spoken adult. I was able to step out of my comfort zone to try new things, take on leadership roles and really become the adult I am today while feeling like I was always supported and educated each step of the way. I know being an education student, I was able to step into the classroom much earlier at Saint Rose than I would have if I attended any other school. I also knew that with the new Thelma P. Lally School of Education building, I had access to the wonderful Curriculum Library and the Winkler Speech Center readily available to me. I love how supportive my professors were like Dr. Fragnoli, Dr. McLane, Dr. Bogan, Dr. Washburn, and Dr. Ward. I knew I could talk to them about anything, and they helped me learn how to network within the profession. I also loved all the opportunities I had in a variety of classroom settings. I never felt like I had to search for my placements. When I did get into the classroom, I always felt over-prepared and knew what to expect.

How did Saint Rose prepare you to work in schools?

Saint Rose overprepared me for teaching in the schools. I got so much insight and knowledge about the education system that I was well equipped to walk into any classroom to teach. I had such a hands-on experience in all of the local curricula that I really felt comfortable when graduating. I also knew many alumni in the local schools, which made it easy to connect when entering a new building.

One way Saint Rose really helped prepare me to work in the schools was by allowing me to get involved in clubs. I was the vice president of the Student Events Board my sophomore and junior year and then the president my senior year. These positions allowed me to get experience managing a team of six chairs. The managerial skills I gained at Saint Rose really set me apart and helped me when I started teaching in the self-contained classroom. I was very well-prepared to manage a team of over 20 service providers (OTs, PTs, speech therapists, etc.). Without that experience at Saint Rose, I would never have been prepared to navigate a team of providers.

Saint Rose also helped prepare me by making sure I’ve thought through every step of a lesson plan. My extensive lesson plans allowed me to be the course lead for the College Seminar 12 curriculum when I became a college counselor at North Star. I then transitioned into the lead lesson planner for the whole Uncommon Schools network. And most recently, I became the content director for the College Seminar 11 and 12 (junior and senior curriculum).

What lessons do you still carry with you from Saint Rose today?
Be the Saint Rose Difference – always stand out from the crowd and make a difference.
Take advantage of all opportunities that are given to you.
Be a lifelong learner – never stop!
Anyone can achieve greatness on a good day, greatness comes from achieving it on a bad day
Learning comes from a strong community.

Have you worked with any other Saint Rose graduates? If so, do you notice anything about a Saint Rose teacher/counselor/speech therapist/psychologist that’s different?
Everyone has been kind, and there’s a sense of pride and camaraderie from Saint Rose alumni. All of the Saint Rose alumni I have worked with are overprepared and love their profession.

Do you keep in touch with your fellow School of Ed alumni or your professors?

Yes, through the graces of social media, I still keep up with many alumni and professors. It’s always nice to see how well my peers have done for themselves and to see what’s going on on campus still. It’s nice to see that, despite all the changes that have occurred at the College, the same professors are still going strong and teaching what the love.

What keeps you in this field – even with all of the challenges?

The students keep me in the field every day. They are what give me my energy and strength each day. The students bring me joy while getting to know them and teaching them. During the quarantine, the hardest part was not having the in-person interactions I was so used to having every day. I love watching the seniors grow. Being able to see our graduates come back to the school or when we’re out on college road trips is always a joy to see them thriving. I love being able to see how they have become young adults.