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In the Shadows: Depression and Its Sneaky Attack

RobinWilliamsBy Sabrina Bong – When I was at Marquette, I always enjoyed participating in “Love Your Body Week.”

During that time, the entire campus made it a point to start talking about mental health. My favorite activity, however, was when one of the campus organizations made posters of celebrities who had mental health disorders. Imagine my surprise when I learned that both Tom Cruise and Jay Leno struggled with dyslexia. For me, seeing that even celebrities – people that we often view as perfect – had disorders really normalized the experience. I think it helped a lot of students too.

I was thinking about this recently after hearing that Robin Williams died of an apparent suicide last week. It was a shock to hear that this comedic genius had died. I had grown up laughing at the fun-loving Genie, admiring the antics of Mrs. Doubtfire, and wishing for a classmate just like Jack. I remember thinking, “How could someone so funny, so full of life, be dead? There has to be a mistake.”

As the story of Williams’ death continued to unfold, I noticed that many counseling websites were starting to post suggestions on how to discuss death and depression with  kids. (On a side note, I STRONGLY recommend that you join some school counseling groups on Facebook, if you are pursuing this career. It is a great way to network with other counselors and share ideas and tips.) While reading some of these tips and ideas, my mother made a comment that she would’ve never thought Robin Williams would commit suicide.

“He’s a comedian,” she said. “You would think that comedians were really happy and easy going. Of all the actors, he is the last person I expected.”

That comment really made me think. Now that the school year is rapidly approaching, I have been spending more time thinking about my students and what this upcoming year will bring. Last year, I had dealt with my fair share of students who were depressed. The topic of suicide was one that I became familiar with, or as familiar with as you can become with such a sensitive, life-altering topic. Not to say that the students who expressed suicidal thoughts were “stereotypical,” but several of them had difficult situations that they were trying to overcome. Some were in abusive homes; some were being bullied; some were overwhelmed with what was being required of them. Out of all the students who came to my office, very few of them were “comedians” or class clowns. In fact, I probably spend a little less time obsessing at night over my funny students versus my more serious, quiet students.

But that’s how depression strikes and catches us off-guard. As a counselor, I am always prioritizing. It’s something that’s become second nature. But this recent tragedy has reminded me of several things. To start, depression does not attack people based on any particular qualities. ANYONE can be depressed. Young, old, Caucasian, African-American … It doesn’t matter. And how depression is expressed varies from person to person. Some people hide behind a mask, or persona, unwilling to let others see their true feelings. Finally, any mental disorder can significantly impair someone’s life. As a counselor, my job is to help make life a little easier.

So tonight, I’m going to spend some time thinking about my class clowns. Maybe I’ll call a few of them down to my office this year to check in. It doesn’t have to be extravagent, but I think a brief conversation is important. “Hi! How was your summer? If you ever need to talk, I’m here for you.”

We as a nation have already lost one great comedic personality. I’m going to do my best to prevent any more losses.

Welcoming Bloggers — New and Old — for Fall 2014

It’s a new school year, and we’re excited to welcome a new crop of bloggers to the fold for Fall 2014. Some faces probably look familiar to you, but others are brand new. We have writers who are teachers, students and school counselors. And we’re hoping to add a higher education focused blogger in the weeks ahead!

In any case — there will be plenty to read, no matter who you are and what type of content you’re seeking.  So, be sure to give us a follow!

SabrinaBongSabrina Bong is a middle school counselor for the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District. She graduated from Marquette this past May with her Master’s in School Counseling. She also received her bachelor’s degrees in Broadcasting and Psychology from Marquette. As a result of spending so much time at MU, Sabrina has become an avid fan of the Golden Eagles and enjoys watching their games. When she is not blogging, Sabrina can be found swing dancing, cheering on the Packers and Brewers, reading, or cooking.  Read Sabrina’s posts.
Felske_2012croppedClaudia Felske graduated from Marquette with a bachelor of arts degree in Writing Intensive English. She earned her teaching certificate and a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. A 2011 High School Teacher of the Year, Nationally Board Certified Teacher, and published author, Felske teaches grades 9-12 English and serves as the District Technology Integration Specialist for the East Troy Community School District. Read Claudia’s posts or follow her at
 ClareHulseboschClare Hulsebosch is a junior at Marquette studying secondary education and English. In spring of 2014, she studied abroad in Galway, Ireland and loved every minute of it.  She is also an avid animal lover, and absolutely adores her dog, Blaise. Clare’s blog posts are coming soon!
 ClareJorgensenClare Jorgensen is originally from Blue Island, IL.  She is currently a sophomore studying secondary education and Spanish. When she’s not in class, you can find her on campus making lattes at the Brew! Clare’s blog posts are coming soon!
McDanielscroppedNick McDaniels graduated from Marquette in 2009 with majors in English and secondary education and a minor in environmental ethics. Nick served as the second president of the College of Education Student Council, and received the Outstanding Secondary Education Student Award in his senior year. He currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with his wife Amie, and his daughter Charlotte. In 2012, he completed a Masters Degree in Educational Administration and Supervision at Johns Hopkins University and he is currently pursuing a JD from the University of Maryland School of Law. Read Nick’s posts.
Murtha_AubreyA Milwaukee native, Aubrey Murtha is an ambitious freshman in the Marquette College of Education majoring in secondary education and writing intensive English with plans to pursue a Spanish minor.  Although she admits that her teaching experiences likely pale in comparison to those of her blogging contemporaries, her service work in both the public and private sectors of Milwaukee’s urban school system illustrate her blooming passion for educating.  She credits the incredible faculty at Divine Savior Holy Angels High School with inspiring her to pursue a degree in secondary education and helping her discover her knack for writing.  When she is not scrambling to complete her schoolwork, Aubrey enjoys performing renditions of Eminem rap ballads for her friends, watching Jack Black (her second teaching inspiration) in School of Rock, and dabbling in the visual arts. Read Aubrey’s posts.
AmandaSzramiakAmanda Szramiak is currently a senior at Marquette with intentions to graduate in the fall of 2016. She is majoring in secondary education and English, along with a minor in family studies. When she’s not in school, Amanda enjoys spending time at home with her family in Chicago. Amanda bowled competitively in high school, and still loves to bowl in her free time. She also loves watching hockey, crafting, painting, and decorating. Amanda’s blog posts are coming soon!
Do you have expertise or experiences in education or counseling you’d like to share on the blog?   Let us know:

First Impressions from Our First Year Students

tumblr_n9yiihVgZJ1s7li0io1_1280By Aubrey Murtha – Week one of a new academic year is daunting for everyone!

Intelligent professors are apprehensive about facing an entirely new crop of students yet again.  Seniors have their sights set on graduation, but must also face the reality that this year will be their last at Marquette.  Juniors work diligently on their professional goals.  Sophomores take any chance that they can get to nervously remind themselves that they are not freshmen anymore, and therefore, not awkward or nerdy when they fall down the stairs or lock themselves out of their rooms.  And then…there are our freshmen.  Our lovely new, nervous faces.  So much promise and potential and so, so, SO much enthusiasm.

Remember I told you I was working with the Freshmen Frontier Program?  Well, I have been nothing short of impressed by this year’s new class, the Marquette Class of 2018.  At least that has been my first impression of this dynamite bunch of young adults.

But what do they think of Marquette so far? 
What are their first impressions of our campus? Our city?  Our community?

I surveyed some of them to find out.

“The first day on campus I already found myself calling this place home, and I knew it wasn’t by mistake. The Marquette community treats everybody like family.”   --Maddie Stewart, Germantown, WI


“Marquette is a pretty school. I like how I feel like I am on a college campus. It’s seems like nearly everything I need is around me. ”  --Dalila Depaula, Newark, NJ

“Every experience so far is just a confirmation that I belong here!”   --Chloe Hurckes, Ringwood, IL

wet-250“I would say my first impression of Marquette is that it’s really wet here. I’m from Colorado where there is no moisture in the air so I’m not used to everything being wet all the time.”  --Alex Dinkel,  Castle Rock, CO

“My first day of classes was intense but all of the Professors are here to teach and help me; and they really create a welcoming setting. I am MORE than excited to continue classes and see everything else Marquette has to offer! I couldn’t have chosen a better university to be at!”      --Kate Neuberg, Arbor-Vitae, WI


 “I live in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin which is just a half an hour away, so I thought I knew the area pretty well.  However, when I got here, it felt like I was in a completely different state. I didn’t know where my classes were or the street names! It’s a smaller campus than most, and unlike most  campuses, it is not enclosed from the city of Milwaukee! It makes you feel like you are a part of the people, a part of the Milwaukee entity which I think is really cool!”  --Kashish Talwar, Menomonee Falls, WI

“I was pretty nervous leading up to the days before move in. However, when I got on campus it was like all the nerves turned into excitement. The Orientation Staff as well as the regular staff in my residence hall really helped me to settle down. Now that orientation is over, and I’m just hours away from my first class, I feel like I am ready to go forward and begin my academic career here.”  –Tim Haggerty, Long Island, NY


The campus is gorgeous. I love walking past Gesu and Marquette Hall and marveling at the beauty of the stone and ivy-covered walls.” --Sarah Gorczany, Waukesha, WI

 “Marquette is a community of genuinely helpful people who care so much about one another that I couldn’t even imagine being anywhere else. Heaven is real. I’ve seen it, and it begins with an M and ends with an E. We Are Marquette!”  --Trip Warren, Topsfield, MA

Tying Up Loose Ends: Reflections on My Summer

quoteBy Lauren Carufel-Wert – Hi everyone! I figured as summer is coming quickly to an end as well as my blog posts, I would try to tie up some loose ends.

I felt like I left my post about quitting my job in an abrupt way and I wasn’t really able to reflect on what went wrong and how I grew and need to grow in the future. That being said, I think that I felt little to no support from the other staff and felt like I was drowning in chaos, I wasn’t trained on how to work with race issues and fights within the class and I was exhausted by trying new ways to engage the kids and at least try to help them through some activities.

I think in the future I need to find a bigger voice for myself to ask for help and tell my superiors when something is not working. I need to be gentle with myself, trying not to expect that I will have best class ever and will be in complete control of the situation. I have to be able to admit that I may not be the most positive or enthused leader I want to be when I was working with the kids due to all the stress.

After I left my job at the summer program I was not able to find another job.  However, I enrolled in an online course about writing stories for children, which was incredibly interesting especially as an elementary education student! I learned about the different rules for vocabulary and complexity of the stories and tailoring the subject of the story to the age of the child as well.

I was also able to shadow a psychologist in a medical clinic to get a feel for what a switch to psychology would be like. I was really glad I did because the experience gave me a lot more to think about in terms of my future career path and new options and ideas for me.

All in all, this summer was a major learning experience for me, I was able to explore new career options, learn how I work with a stressful classroom, and pick up some new and fun skills as well.

Battling Bullying with Zink the Zebra

32logoBy Sabrina Bong – For the past few weeks, I have been working on intermediate school curriculum for the Student Services department.

It’s been great being able to meet up with my colleagues in a less-structured setting, as opposed to a department meeting after school. Now, we’re a little more relaxed and we swap stories about how we are spending our vacations.

While writing down curriculum about bullying and coming up with ideas to further encourage our students to be “active bystanders” and helping others, I reread a book that I hadn’t thought about since I was nine years old. The book is called Zink the Zebra, and it was written by Kelly Weil, an 11 year old girl from Wisconsin. It is about a zebra named Zink, who was born with spots instead of stripes.

Zink is teased because of this difference, and therefore goes on a quest to find out if spots are weird or not. In the end, Zink learns that a zebra is a zebra, regardless of how one looks.

For me, the really poignant part of the story is the young girl behind it. Kelly wrote the story as she battled cancer. After she died in 1993, Kelly’s family was surprised when her teachers wrote them a letter, which talked about how Kelly had struggled with other students making fun of her because she had no hair. Like Zink, she struggled with looking different from her peers, but also like Zink, she realized that being different made her special.

I had mentioned this book to my students at the end of the year while we discussed bullying and ways to prevent it, but hadn’t had the time to read it to them. Now, I wish I had.

Middle school is an age where peer approval is at its peak. It was the same when I was in middle school; all of us just desperately wanted to fit in. I would say that it’s harder nowadays to do so. In an age where Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat are around to document a person’s every move, outfit, and comment, I feel like the task of “fitting in” is even more daunting. If you are a person who does not conform, it’s a little bit harder to make it through these middle school years. And really, that’s the sad thing! Students feel like the only way they can make it through is if they are like everyone else. They are afraid to be individuals, to be different, to have thoughts and opinions that are unique.

And to be honest, that’s where bullying starts. It starts with individuals who are different and people tease them.  The behavior then morphs into judgment, torment, humiliation, and exile.

I plan on reading this story, or at least discussing it with my students each year. The tale, written in the  voice of a child so close in age to my students, is so poignant, and I hope my students continue to learn from it. They will talk about bullying at least once throughout their three years at the intermediate school, so they will be well-versed in it by the time they reach high school! And I hope my students find the same courage to be unique that Kelly Weil embodied when she wrote Zink the Zebra.

To learn more about Zink, Kelly, and the Zink the Zebra foundation, you can Google search “Zink the Zebra.” You’ll find links to different activities and places where you can buy the book. I really encourage all teachers and counselors to read this book with their students. It is best for elementary and early middle school (I think by seventh and eighth grade, it becomes a little too young for them,) but the idea behind the book is great for all ages. Enjoy!

What Summer? Confessions of a Slogger

Summer is OverBy Bill Henk – The dreaded question started about a week or two after commencement in late May.  At first it rightly struck me as kind and well-intentioned.  In fairness, that never really changed as the weeks passed.  But my reaction to the question did.

By the end of June, the simple, innocent query: “How’s your summer going?” started being asked (and this next phrase is REALLY going to date me) and “it thoroughly bummed me out.”  My answer never changed, but its tone definitely shifted in my head — from humor to sarcasm. What summer?,” I would routinely respond.  Why?  Because I was having myself something of a “bummer of a summer” personally.

You see, I had another pretty grueling  academic year, and even though the results were very gratifying, by April I found myself counting the days until graduation.   If I could just make it until then, I thought, then surely the grind would relent some, and I could rest just a little and regroup.

Now here it is August 14th, and the much desired and anticipated relief never really came.   Oh, I grabbed a morning or afternoon here and there, but by and large, my commitments actually increased rather than decreased.  No vacation, not even a few days away.  And next week the fall semester begins for me.  This summer has absolutely zipped by, and I can hardly believe it.

One of the “casualties” of such a busy summer is that there wasn’t much opportunity to blog.  I wrote about  Maya Angelou’s passing, a wonderful gift we received from a generous alumna who had passed, and my 10 year anniversary as dean..  And that was it.  Period.  THIS from a guy who’s rarely missed a weekly deadline for a post in nearly four years.  Anyway, at least I’ve come up with a new term for someone like me — a “blogger who slacks” — a “slogger.”  By the way I was also kind of bummed out that no one seemed to notice!

But another way for me to look at the past 10 weeks or so is that I’ve had a “humdinger of a summer” professionally.  My feeling has always been that if I’m going to be loaded up with work, then hopefully it will be relevant, meaningful, satisfying, and most of all, will make the world better.  And that’s exactly what I’ve experienced  this summer — a good problem to have now that I’ve stepped back and reflected upon it.

So now, at the risk of sounding like a whiner or a self-promoter (or worse both), I’ll end this post with a list of what’s been on my to-do list or radar screen, so readers will know what I’ve been doing in June, July, and August.  Almost all of it goes beyond my regular duties as a dean here at the university.  I have to admit that it’s all pretty exciting stuff, although the work resides at different stages.  Cutting to the chase, here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Finalized our College’s comprehensive annual report
  • Wrote a summary of  our academic unit for our new President, Dr. Mike Lovell
  • Co-chaired the newly retooled Education Deans of Greater Milwaukee group  (which included authoring, with help, a grant proposal that was funded, some work on our annual Celebrate Teachers and Teaching event, forging an affiliation agreement, and helping some Waukesha county superintendents in the area of diversity hiring)
  • Served in three leadership capacities  for the large Milwaukee Succeeds community partnership
  • Worked on the board of a charter school and two Catholic schools
  • Participated in the Catholic Schools Commission meetings and its Marketing Committee
  • Consulted on a fall Law School event on the societal impact of Catholic school closings
  • Helped lay the groundwork for an exciting new summer youth camp for next year, and
  • Explored partnerships with the First Stage Children’s Theater, the Military Child Education Coalition, Notre Dame Middle school, the Sojourner Peace House, the Next Door Foundation, Sharp Literacy,  and just today, the Youth Frontiers program
  • And lastly, although it’s a lot of work, I’m very honored to be chairing the search committee for our next Vice President and Director of Athletics at Marquette, particularly because I’m a former student-athlete myself.

Whew!  At this point, I’m hoping for my batteries to be recharged, to get a shot in the arm, fresh fuel in the tank, or any other metaphor that will get me ready for next Monday.  At least now when people ask, “How was your summer?,” instead of replying with “What summer?,” I can either direct them to this post or just say “Busy, but interesting and worthwhile.”  

What is the Importance of English Education?

5ws-300x199By Aubrey Murtha – It does not take a scientist to know that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) courses are an absolutely integral part of the American system of education.

In order to remain fiercely competitive in today’s global economy, it is only natural that the American federal government encourages states to expand their STEM programs and clubs.

But what about English education?
As a future high school English teacher, I feel a bit snubbed by modern America’s lack of emphasis on the importance of scholarly writing.  Literacy has always been a hot button issue among educators in America’s public school system, and it seems as though even that has fallen by the wayside as of late.

Along with art education, English classes do not get enough credit for the skills that they instill in our youth.  I know I am biased in saying this, but I think that without the ability to convey one’s thoughts in an intelligent and concise manner, many children and young adults lack the professional skills that will enable them to integrate nicely into the American work force or perhaps appear more qualified than their peers for a particular position.

I’m not saying that everyone should be well versed in Shakespearean sonnets or that all working professionals must be able to analyze the various symbolic facets of the American classics, but I do think that we should be able to as least compose a well-worded e-mail or a grammatically correct cover letter.

Maybe we English educators should look at expanding our curriculum to include these basic skills.  Not only should our students read and understand challenging pieces of literature and write critical analyses, but they should also be able to efficiently communicate with skills that we readily prepare them to use in the work force.  Maybe then the American public would have a greater appreciation for the value of English education.

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