When Jesie Steffes’ clients fill out a satisfaction survey after meeting with her for counseling appointments, they’re often writing the same thing: “I wouldn’t be in school today without Jesie’s help.”
Beyond serving as a clinician in Mental Health Services at the Gallogly Recreation and Wellness Center, Jesie creates mental health and wellness programming, runs a grief support group that offers resources to students who have lost significant individuals and has been known to create spur-of-the-moment programming to meet student needs.
In recognition of the extraordinary dedication she has brought to campus in nearly five years at UCCS, Jesie was named Employee of the Quarter from January to March 2019.
“Jesie is always busy and creating and producing,” wrote Stephanie Hanenberg, executive director of health and wellness, in her Employee of the Quarter nomination. “And she is always doing this with a big smile on her face.”
While earning her master’s in clinical mental health counseling, Jesie completed her clinical field work at the Counseling Center (now the Wellness Center-Mental Health Services) at UCCS, supervised by Benek Altayli, director of mental health services.
After graduating, Jesie worked for some time in child protection and offered in-home family therapy. It was in that position as a child protection therapist that Jesie realized she was “on the right bus” of being in the mental health field, but not in the right “seat” on the bus. She earned her license as professional counselor and pivoted back to student-centric counseling at UCCS.
Jesie often refers to her current role in Mental Health Services as her dream job – largely because she works so closely with UCCS students. According to Jesie, “Individuals pursuing education on a college campus are often in transformative times in their life, and being able to support our students to make lasting changes and improvements to their overall well–being while pursuing education is really fulfilling work for me.”
Her focus on life transitions and transformations led Jesie to establish Gateway Guides, a program which provides mental health services to first-year students and military veterans adapting to college life. Gateway Guides present on issues as diverse as dealing with homesickness and coping with stress to managing toxic relationships and thriving – not just surviving – during finals.
Jesie’s experiences as a first–generation college student gave her insight into the struggles and concerns that face today’s college students. “Our freshmen and first–year students often need additional support in making the transition to a college campus,” she says. “We noticed that first–year students often don’t seek support until things feel pretty rough. We wanted to create something proactive that would assist our students long before they felt they were in crisis.” The goal of each Gateway Guides is to create a student service model that is supportive and motivating rather than overly clinical or therapeutic in nature.
When asked about the most rewarding part of her job, Jesie replies, “It’s when my clients tell me that they feel better!”
She continues, “It may sound simple, but I am in the work of helping people to figure out how to ease their emotional and mental pain, and to function in a way that they want. It feels amazing when clients are able to tell me that they feel better from the hard work we’ve done in therapy or have completed a goal or task that caused them fear before.”
Jesie isn’t only working towards progress with each counseling client; she’s also working to extend mental health services to as many UCCS students as possible. Hanenberg wrote in Jesie’s Employee of the Quarter nomination that “Jesie consistently has some of the highest numbers for clients served and has told me that she doesn’t like to see students on a waitlist. She takes on as many clients as she can effectively manage to help minimize the number of students waiting to be seen.”
And yet this work, Jesie says, shouldn’t just be limited to mental health professionals.
“The well-being and mental health of our students is all of our concern,” Jesie says. “The key is caring about people enough to know them, see them, and ask them how they’re doing.”
And if campus community members don’t feel equipped to handle what an individual may be going through, Jesie tells them not to fear.
“One of my favorite things to tell people campus-wide is how to check in with someone,” she says. “If they seem upset, ask them. ‘Are you doing okay?’ or ‘Do you need support?’ Even if you can’t help with what they need, the very act of seeing them and asking is helpful. From there you can activate other resources like the Wellness Center or other staff.”
“If we only leave well–being to the professionals,” she says, “we are missing out on the healing power of a supportive community.”
In recognition of her tremendous efforts on behalf of the campus, Jesie received a $100 stipend, a free and reserved parking space for the three months of her tenure as Employee of the Quarter, a $40 voucher to the UCCS Bookstore and one day of administrative leave.
More importantly, she has the knowledge that her work on UCCS’ campus has changed students’ lives for the better.
Do you have a colleague whose extraordinary efforts at UCCS deserve to be recognized? Nominate them for the Employee of the Quarter award.