Alumna Profile: Lauren Drago, M.S.Ed. '11

What was your educational/career background coming into the program?

I graduated from The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, MA, with a degree in Psychology and Creative Writing. After graduation I moved to NYC to work in publishing for Scholastic, Inc.  After considering my long-term vocational desires, I realized I still loved psychology and would feel more fulfilled spending each day contributing to the personal, emotional, and experiential wellness of others. I decided to hone this by pursuing a graduate degree in counseling. 

Why did you choose SMHC at Penn GSE? 

The SMHC program was perfect for me in many ways: the monthly weekend-based schedule truly left room for me to maintain a strong work/school/life balance; financially, as the executive model allowed its students to maintain employment; and also of course the curriculum and degree type. I entered the program without an interest in seeking the school counseling certification, but I ended up choosing both mental health and school tracks. The broad curriculum opened my eyes to new, valuable experiences in counseling and education. Having both tracks also increased my marketability and cost-value of the program overall. I now can confidently seek jobs in both schools and agencies. 

How has the integration of school & mental health counseling in our program contributed to your education/experience?

I never expected to enjoy my school counseling internship as much as I did. I am now invigorated by exploring the issues faced by our public education system, and have a real interest in the wellness of our young students today. Although I am working in the mental health field, my exposure to school counseling ignited an unexpected, but very real, new vocational interest for me. I know I can use my counseling expertise in both school and mental health settings, and feel well prepared for both, too. 

What has the experience of the program been like in regards to time management? How have/did you balance work, family, field placements, classes, assignments, etc.?

During my first year of school I completed my practicum over my lunch breaks on Penn's campus, where I was also employed. For the week after each weekend of classes, I definitely needed to take some time to decompress and take my mind off of school. Then I'd spend the next few weeks focusing on my work again in gradual bits, maybe an hour per night, so it never became too insurmountable to complete my work all at once. 

How has the diversity of the cohort contributed to your experience? 

The diversity of my cohort was inspiring to me. Looking around the room at my classmates, I felt I could appreciate and take in the range of their perspectives and experiences (which were freely shared). I feel that I took something different from everyone. For example, if I ever felt overwhelmed, I'd look at my classmate who was a mother of two, worked full time, and still completed 20 hours of internship per week with a smile on her face. Her presence reminded me that if she could do it, so could I! 

Describe the program's focus on urban education & mental health issues.
 

The faculty each had an impressive and unique range of knowledge about urban education and mental health. Philadelphia provides an extremely rich culture and base for experience and exposure to urban counseling issues. My professors had been out there in the field for a long time and certainly took that right back into the classroom to share with the students. Learning about urban issues was energizing, challenging, and eye opening. I definitely appreciate having had the opportunity to complete my internship in a Philadelphia Charter school with urban youth. I take pieces of that experience with me wherever I go. The urban lens has absolutely shaped who I am as a counselor -- it continues to influence what I believe, practice, see, and understand in all encounters. 

What are you doing now?

I'm currently a supervisor, at Vital Decisions, where I've been working for the last few years. At Vital Decisions, our mission is to empower individuals and families who are dealing with life changing illnesses, so that their care decisions truly reflect their personal values and priorities. As a clinical supervisor, I manage a team of clinicians to help them to grow their clinical skills, best manage their role, and provide quality care to their clients. Recently, I also began my own private practice, Lauren Drago Therapy. My practice provides high-focus, clear, and collaborative client-centered therapy. My goal is to help each client move beyond barriers into their best selves and to live their best lives. In both of my current roles I get to help others every single day to elevate themselves and engage their strengths, and that is a true joy.