Sherika Lee is living out her dreams of becoming a counselor thanks to NC State’s online Master of Education (M.Ed.) in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, a heart for service and pure determination.
Lee is currently a Correctional Behavioral Specialist II within the High-Security Maximum Control unit at Polk Correctional Institution (PCI) in Butner, North Carolina. Lee always felt that she could make more of an impact as a counselor which inspired her to enroll in the M.Ed. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling online program in the summer of 2018. Lee’s supervisor at PCI was very supportive not only during the enrollment process but throughout the program. When she felt stressed and overwhelmed, he would remind her that making short-term sacrifices would have long-term gains.
“The first factor that influenced my decision in choosing NC State’s program was the eligibility for licensure upon completion of the program,” Lee says. Other factors included Lee’s ability to attend graduate school part time with classes held in the evenings.
“This was perfect because it granted me the opportunity to fulfill my duties as a wife and parent, such as cooking dinner and helping my son with his homework, while simultaneously pursuing my degree.”
Lee also appreciated the size of the cohort as only 12 students were accepted into the online program.
“I knew this would provide an opportunity to have a close relationship with the professors. In turn, this would provide me with invaluable experience as a future counselor,” she adds.
And Lee was right about building strong connections with her professors and cohort — even leaning on her classmates for help using the academic technology at times — as they all navigated their practicums and internships in the midst of COVID-19.
“My practicum site did not have the option of virtual counseling sessions, yet I was determined to finish my hours during the spring semester. I must admit that I was afraid of contracting the coronavirus, but I had to remain focused if I wanted to complete the program on time,” Lee says.
“I not only had the stress of completing my practicum hours but I was also considered an essential full-time worker. It was double jeopardy for me because I could have contracted the virus while working in the prison as well as at my practicum site,” Lee adds. She practiced extra safety precautions because her husband is also an essential worker as an activities director in a nursing facility.
“Being surrounded by high-risk factors for contracting the virus allowed me to put my trust in a greater being. My faith in God really carried me through this entire pandemic.”
Lee’s determination and strength also carried her through dealing with grief as she lost six loved ones during the program. On top of this, Lee continued working 40 hours a week and then would complete her internship hours on the weekends at Freedom House Recovery Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
“It was difficult at times balancing my life, working and completing my degree. The key to my success was maintaining a schedule. I did not deviate from my schedule. It was the only way I was able to complete reading assignments, papers and presentations,” Lee says. “However, I struggled with self-care throughout this program. I am improving in this area and I understand the importance of taking care of myself before I can help anyone else.”
And by helping herself and committing to completing her program, Lee is well on her way to helping others.
“I am excited about working with future clients and creating an environment that will enhance their potential to change,” Lee says. “I truly believe that the catalyst for change is unconditional positive regard, empathetic understanding and congruence.”
“The program has provided the necessary framework to effectively provide evidence-based practice and effective counseling methods,” Lee adds. “I am able to couple my past work experiences and degrees with my clinical mental health counseling degree to develop life-changing experiences for my current caseload, as well as my future clients.”
Lee describes her experience in the program as a great one with much credit to her incredible professors like Assistant Teaching Professor Rolanda Mitchell.
“She has been supportive, compassionate and caring, especially when COVID-19 first hit and the school system closed abruptly,” Lee says. With no family located in her city, Lee and her husband did not have anyone to keep their son.
“I initially took my son to one grandmother, and then had to take him to stay with the other grandmother for the remainder of the school year. I was very emotional because I knew that I would not be able to see my son every day.”
While in a meeting with Mitchell, Lee says she explained she needed to go pick up her son immediately after the meeting. “She said, ‘Go get your son, we can meet later.’ I began to cry because she cared about my situation and realized that cutting the meeting short would allow me to have more time with my son,” Lee adds. “I was extremely grateful for her act of kindness.”
Lee’s advice for other working professionals thinking about continuing their education? Never give up on your dreams!
“I thought that I was too old to go back to school and had given up on the possibility of becoming a counselor. But, my husband was instrumental in encouraging me to live out my dreams and go back to school. He told me that I was intelligent and he knew that I could do it. Well, the rest is history.”
Lee attended the May 14 commencement ceremony at Carter-Finley stadium alongside her program cohort.
“It was important to complete this journey with the people I started out with, cohort IV. I would not have made it through this program without my professors as well as the support of my fellow peers. On graduation day, we waited until everyone arrived on the field of Carter-Finley Stadium. Once everyone arrived, we walked down the aisle together, sat together, and turned our tassels together. I am proud to say that we finished this three-year journey together,” says Lee.
While Lee was slightly disappointed with not having an opportunity to walk across the stage for graduation, she appreciates the College of Education hosting a virtual ceremony where her name was called and a short video was shown of Lee’s husband placing her master’s hood.
“I am proud to say that I graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I am a member of Chi Sigma Iota, International Honor Society. I did it!”