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Friday, March 13, 2015

Counseling Professor Selected to SXSW Panel

SXSW Panel
The College of Education’s own Dr. Laura Owen is the latest faculty member to garner national attention with her selection to a panel on “Innovative Tools and Strategies to Access Higher Ed.” at this year’s South by Southwest Education Series. What started as a music festival in 1987 has since blossomed into an international destination for innovations in music, technology, and most recently in 2011, education.

Liz Willen, the editor-in-chief at The Hechinger Report, moderated the panel of keynote speakers who, in addition to Owen, included: Ted Mitchell, Undersecretary at the U.S. Department of Education and Eric Waldo, Executive Director of the First Lady’s Reach Higher Initiative.

First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Reach Higher” campaign is one of a few topics that were discussed on the panel that centralized around the issue of accessing higher education. Dr. Owen, an assistant professor in school counseling, discussed the importance of school counselors and how they help ensure access to higher education both in and out of a school setting.

“If you take a look at current federal policies for secondary education, school counselors aren’t mentioned at all,” Owen says on current policies regarding the work of counselors. “We’re looking for ways to focus on the work school counselors do to close college opportunity gaps. So many first generation college students lack the social capital to know how to handle the FAFSA and other important facets of the matriculation process. When positioned properly, school counselors provide the information and support needed to navigate the college going process.”

Dr. Owen has been a strong advocate for wider accessibility to higher education, and has traveled the country to speak on behalf of school counselors. Most notably, she was an invited guest last May to speak to members of the White House staff in Washington, D.C. including President Obama’s education advisor Roberto Rodriguez, and the First Lady Michelle Obama’s Chief of Staff Tina Tchen, on recommendations for working with school counselors to improve post-secondary opportunities for all students.

“We were encouraged to make our points quickly, as these were very important people in attendance,” Owen recalls of her visit. “But we ended up speaking for over two hours. Everyone there seemed excited and recognized the importance of engaging the school counseling profession in the college opportunity agenda.”

These connections allowed Dr. Owen and fellow faculty member and School Counseling Program director Dr. Trish Hatch to plan a White House Convening at San Diego State University in November 2014. With her selection to the SXSW panel, Dr. Owen continues an exciting series of appearances that allow her to advocate for the work counselors do every day. Over the next few months, Dr. Owen is scheduled to speak in Arizona, California, Kansas, and Texas to administrators, school counselors, and counselor educators on school counselor research, practices, professional development, and tools needed to support all students as they transition from high school to college.

“My hopes are to continue to let people know about the vital role school counselors play in supporting student access to higher education,” Owen says. “The future holds so many possibilities as we work toward innovative solutions to increase post secondary options for all students.”