Melissa Ockerman, Associate Professor in Counseling, emphatically states that “If you can’t walk the talk, you shouldn’t be talking.” Since she is asking her students to be involved in the community and to innovate, she dedicates her time outside of the classroom to those pursuits. “I believe that my research, service, and teaching intertwine and inform each other.” The work Ockerman does outside the classroom changes how she talks to students when in the classroom “I’m able to say to them ‘Here is the latest’ so that, when they are entering the workforce, they are equipped with the most up-to-date tools. Often school counselors are on the front-lines and they need to be well prepared.”
Ockerman holds a position on the board of directors for the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance (ISSA). Dedicated to promoting safety, support and healthy development for LGBTQ youth, the ISSA focuses on advocacy, education, youth organizing and research in Illinois schools and communities. As a Chair of the Education and Training (EAT) committee, she works with the staff to develop educational materials and training curricula, supervise implementation of community-based training programs and review the effectiveness of trainings that benefit the entire school community. “The effect of this work becomes bigger than just the LGBTQ students. It is making sure schools are safe for students and ensuring equity for all.” In the aftermath of the recent contentious election, Ockerman believes their outreach and training are all the more necessary. “The question is ‘How do we allow for conversations about sensitive topics that are healthy and constructive?’ There needs to be a place for civil discourse and, by providing resources to respectfully discuss and process the election, we were able to help teachers and counselors.”
Hired as the first school counselor educator at DePaul, Ockerman was instrumental in growing and strengthening the program. To that end, it became to the first institution in Illinois to be affiliated with the Education Trust’s Transforming School Counseling Initiative, recognizing that the DePaul’s school counseling program is a national leader.
Ockerman regularly partners with her colleagues to further develop the program and to explore how the school counseling profession is changing. She presents regularly at state and national conferences and has co-authored the book 101 Solutions for School Counselors and Leaders in Challenging Times along with DePaul’s Erin Mason. Ockerman has even rubbed elbows with Washington’s elite. “ My DePaul colleagues and I were asked to be a part of several White House Convenings, advising First Lady Michelle Obama’s Reach Higher initiative to inspire all students to pursue their educations past high school.” Ockerman’s research has expanded internationally, travelling to Ireland with colleague, Fr. Patrick McDevitt. There, they worked with Cuan Mhuire, Ireland’s largest voluntary provider of rehabilitation treatment for individuals suffering from addiction and explored how national trends in addiction affect families. Plans are in the works to create international opportunities for students and to develop international best practices to assist children and families coping with addiction.
But, in the end, Ockerman’s main passion is preparing the next generation of transformed school counselors. “We have the best students in the School Counseling program at DePaul. They are bright, good-natured and globally-minded. My overarching goal is to improve the craft in order to help my students become change agents, to be able to address their students’ academic, socio-emotional and career needs holistically.”