Who says you can’t go home?
Juan Mata did so by landing a full-time position as a school counselor at Morris Schott STEAM Elementary in Mattawa, Washington, in 2019. He attended middle school in the same building where he now works.
“I was debating becoming a teacher, but counseling has a little more flexibility and more meaningful interaction with the students, which I like,” he said. “Before that, I was a substitute teacher.”
Mata then enrolled in the online Master of Science in Education in School Counseling program at Arkansas State University. He is on track to graduate in Spring 2022.
“I was going to be here temporarily, but I ended up working at the school and enjoying my time there,” he said. “I got an emergency certification to become a counselor before I went back to school to get the degree.”
After researching online master’s degree programs across the country, Mata ran across A-State and enrolled at the school more than 2,200 miles away from home.
“I was looking at a variety of different programs to see what would work best for my schedule,” he said. “After considering everything, the MSE in School Counseling program at A-State was a perfect match with working around my schedule and being very flexible online.
“It is definitely working out well. I keep busy with school and work at the same time.”
After graduating from high school, Mata earned a pair of bachelor’s degrees in communications with a specialization in media and culture and in a foreign language (Chinese) from Washington State University.
In 2016, he graduated with a master’s degree in cinema studies from New York University in 2016. He is the first person in his immediate family to earn a graduate degree.
“When I was in New York, I worked with foreign students who came to the country to study,” he said. “Before that, I was a tour guide at WSU. I have done a variety of things.”
However, pursuing a career in school counseling didn’t exactly come from out of the blue for Mata.
“When I was in high school, I did career surveys,” he said. “Education and counseling always came up as my top ones. I didn’t think that was true, but time and time again I landed back in education and realized I wanted to do something more in that area.”
So far, Introduction to Crisis and Trauma in Children and Adolescents is Mata’s favorite course in the online MSE in School Counseling curriculum.
“It gave me a different perspective on counseling,” he said. “I learned a lot more. As a counselor, I have to be ready for crisis situations, but that course made me think outside of the box, for which I was appreciative.
“I have been able to use what I am learning in the program. I have the fortune of working and doing the same thing at school at the same time. I can practice what I learned in school the next day. It’s very applicable.”
Mata is happy to be back home among family and friends while earning a master’s degree and building a career where he attended school as a child.
“They are excited,” he said. “They realize it also helps me stay here at home, which they all wanted. I also try to apply a little bit of my film studies with my students while I am counseling.
“My degree at NYU was supposed to take two years, but I finished it in one year. Because I came back so early, I didn’t go to commencement, so it doesn’t feel real to me. I want to go to the commencement ceremony at A-State.”
Although Mata still has about half of the online MSE in School Counseling program remaining, he is eyeing life after graduation.
“The master’s degree has already opened a lot of opportunities with being able to keep the job I have and updating me with the information that I need. Plus, it has set me up to go get my Ph.D. if I decide to do that.
“I’m happy with what I am doing now. Eventually, I want to look into education counseling and teach other counselors and go that route.”
Mata, who enjoys hiking in his free time, believes that the key to success as an online student is fully investing in the learning process.
“Be open to all of the classes,” he said. “They are thought-provoking — especially with current events regarding equity.
“We have different conversations around teaching equity, which applies to the counseling field. The program has been great!”