As a co-owner of Alive in You camps, Heather Weir has spent most of the last 16 summers immersed in the lives of thousands of adolescents from all over the country.
“Over the years, I have worked with so many teenagers and heard the struggles they have had in school — emotionally and socially,” she said. “I never felt fully capable of helping them.
“I am a good listener, and I can hear what they have to say. But I always felt like I needed to become stronger as a person to help them navigate some of these difficult decisions they have to make. I want to be able to help them.”
So, Weir enrolled in the online Master of Science in Education in School Counseling program at Arkansas State University. She is on track to graduate in May 2022.
Weir and her husband, Jim, started the Catholic-based camps in 2005. This summer’s camps are in Knoxville, Tennessee, after COVID-19 led to the cancellation of last year’s programs. The Weirs reside in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and have three children — Elizabeth (17), James (15) and Madeline (11).
“It’s been a dream of mine for many years to earn a master’s degree,” she said. “Our camps have been the driving force behind that decision.”
“The online format is one of the greatest things about this program,” she said. “I am able to continue running my camps from wherever I am. I travel all across the United States. I can be in whatever state and do the work that needs to be done. It’s amazing. The year off also helped me go back to school.”
Weir is from Orlando, Florida, where she worked in the Disney Executive financial department before starting a business. She holds a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications from Rollins College in Florida. Her passion for working with children drew her to camps.
“I enjoy being around kids. The more that I am around them, the younger they keep me. I have always felt a connection with the teens. I feel like they are misunderstood.”
After Weir heard about the online MSEd. in School Counseling at A-State from a friend who was enrolled in the program, she saw an ad for it on social media.
“It was one of those life-altering moments when it came up,” she said. “It was exciting when I clicked it. Right away, I talked to somebody with the school who told me to not be afraid and guided me through every single step.
“They went above and beyond to make sure all of my paperwork got in so I could take my first class that summer and get on track. From the beginning, they have been helpful, encouraging and uplifting within my own capabilities.”
So far, one course on theories and techniques in helping relationships, taught by Dr. Allison Paolini, is Weir’s favorite course in the online MSEd. in School Counseling curriculum.
“When you have a professor who genuinely cares for you as a student and the profession you are going into, it gives you such respect for what you are doing,” she said.
S’More to Come
Once Weir becomes the first person in her immediate family to earn a master’s degree, she plans to extend her return to higher education. She hopes to add a second career without sacrificing her entrepreneurial spirit or her passion for helping teens.
“I am looking at pursuing an Ed.D. from A-State or a Ph.D. in counseling education. I’ll keep going, one route or the other. I can still participate in the camps with this profession,” she said, noting that she plans to work full time at a school.
Weir believes she’ll be prepared to take on the role of professional school counselor once she graduates from A-State’s program. She may be the student, but her children are also paying attention.
“Because of the classes I am taking, my son has asked so many questions,” she said. “He thinks he would be interested in doing counseling, too. My husband and kids are so supportive.”
The online MSEd. in School Counseling program at A-State has exposed Weir to new perspectives.
“Where you are as a person will change in the program,” she said. “It will change your perception on how you work with students and what the role of a school counselor really is.
“You will grow as an individual. I am so proud of who I am now and how much I have grown because of the school counseling program. You learn things about yourself that you didn’t know.”