Junior Rachel Stoneburner has always been one to pay attention to things that others overlook. She also has tremendous compassion for others. This, along with a few special people in her life, have shaped Rachel’s career path.
Majoring in psychology, Rachel is focusing her studies on persons with cognitive disabilities, a group she recognizes as often misunderstood, underrepresented or ignored altogether. Her goal in life is to advocate for these men and women and to show that persons with disabilities can and want to contribute to society.
Hailing from Napoleon, a small town outside of Jackson, Rachel grew up with a strong sense of community and wanted to make sure that carried over to the college she attended. After visiting The University of Olivet, Rachel felt at home and appreciated the warm welcome from students, staff and faculty. As an avid golfer, Rachel joined the golf team, immediately fitting right in with her teammates. She couldn’t wait to expand her talents, both in the classroom and on the course.
“I love Olivet’s campus and the fact that there are endless possibilities to get involved and make a difference in someone’s life,” Rachel explained. “I am so happy that I made the decision to attend OC and major in psychology. I’m really excited for my future career.”
In high school, Rachel connected with students with disabilities, especially Robbie, a classmate with Down syndrome. Despite her disability, Robbie is one of the happiest and most positive people Rachel knows, and her unique outlook on life won Rachel’s heart. Although initially inspired to major in teaching with a focus on special education, Rachel was concerned about the job market and turned her interest to psychology. In the end she believes this change in direction was meant to be – majoring in psychology will allow her to further understand the cognitive challenges of those with developmental disabilities and learn customized counseling methods.
As Rachel dove into her studies, she was surprised to learn that the educational services provided under Michigan’s current Individuals with Disabilities Act end when students turn 26 (five years longer than required by federal law). In most cases, this results in major setbacks for individuals, who often thrive in a structured learning environment. “Just because these individuals may be considered an adult does not mean they are done learning,” Rachel said. “I see the need to provide further opportunities to learn and grow for those with developmental disabilities beyond the age of 26. That’s my motivation to stay focused and work hard in the classroom.”
Excelling in her classes, Rachel credits John Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology, with supporting her career ambitions and working with her to customize her course of study. Last year, Dr. Moore even helped Rachel land the opportunity of a lifetime – practicum experience working with a partnership between AmeriCorps and Peckham, a vocational rehabilitation center providing job opportunities and training to those with disabilities or other barriers to employment.
“Dr. Moore has been wonderful helping me find the right career path,” Rachel said. “He’s always supported me and my aspirations, and his classes are fun, too. Dr. Moore does an awesome job of teaching in a real world perspective. We don’t just learn from a book or PowerPoint, but we discuss and practice techniques. One example is learning about motivational interviewing; that’s where you counsel someone by asking questions and letting them think through solutions to their problems rather than trying to guide them by telling them what to do.”
At Peckham, Rachel is an economic opportunity coach, teaching money management, employability, and stress and time management skills to employees with disabilities. For Rachel, the experience is invaluable, giving her opportunities for hands-on, real world experiences with the target group of people she wants to work with; for those she counsels, they couldn’t be more appreciative of Rachel’s support and guidance.
“At first I didn’t jump on the opportunity to work at Peckham,” Rachel admitted. “The time commitment I needed to invest meant I couldn’t continue to play golf. I had to make a tough decision to give it up, but that’s what life is about and I’m confident I made the right choice now. I’ve ridiculously expanded my skills and gotten to apply much of what Dr. Moore teaches in his classes. Plus, I’ve stayed connected with my teammates and still golf with them all the time; it’s the perfect way to relax and unwind.”
Rachel will continue to serve at Peckham through the fall semester and will even be eligible for a scholarship when she’s done. She’s also planning to pursue a master’s degree in social work after completing her undergrad at Olivet. All the while, she’s using this time to get to know as many people with developmental disabilities as she can and building a plan for how she can impact the future of education.
At The University of Olivet, learning is about more than the material covered in a textbook. Comets live out the practice of “the divine art and science of doing good to others,” as stated by the founding fathers in 1844. Rachel is not only laying the foundation for a successful career, but she is also exemplifying the ideal student The University of Olivet envisioned 173 years ago. She is an example of how students strive to Be More to Do Good.