Class of 2022: Kate Serrao

Inspired by her passion for the outdoors, Kate’s research centered on the benefits of nature for various mental illnesses.

Audrey Breen

Kate Serrao, originally from Midlothian, Virginia, will graduate in May with a Master of Education in Counselor Education. Inspired by her passion for the outdoors, Kate’s research centered on the benefits of nature for various mental illnesses.

Why did you choose the UVA School of Education & Human Development for your program of study?

I chose to attend UVA because of the caliber of the professors and the passion they displayed for their research. I knew I wanted to be a part of a program that supported their students and provided them with tons of opportunities. I attended JMU for my undergraduate degree but always wanted to go to UVA, so attending UVA EHD for my masters has been a dream come true! 

Can you share how your passions for the outdoors and for helping people improve their mental wellbeing come together?

At JMU I worked at UREC's Adventure Center from my sophomore to senior year. I worked at the climbing gym and helped manage the gear rental program and had so much fun! My senior year I had the opportunity to attend a weekend backpacking trip run by the JMU Counseling Center, and that's when I realized the overlap between my passion for outdoor recreation and mental health. I enjoyed the trip so much that I wanted to start a similar program at UVA! I've worked at the Slaughter Rec Climbing Center both years that I've been here and was able to get a program I call "Mental Wellness in the Wilderness" going. A lot of my research centered on the benefits of nature for various mental illnesses, including ones common among college students such as anxiety and depression. The goal is for there to eventually be fall and spring backpacking trips for undergraduate students with a focus on mental health, empowerment, and mindfulness with the use of group counseling techniques. The outdoors has always been incredibly therapeutic for me, and there's a lot of science to back up the benefits of spending time in nature! 

What is the most significant thing that has shaped your time while you’ve been here?

My internship as a school counselor at Louisa High School has been the most significant thing that has shaped my time at UVA. I've had the opportunity to work with tons of awesome students and other supportive adults throughout my last 2 semesters here. I've been able to run counseling groups, help with the school musical, play in the staff-versus-seniors basketball game, and form relationships with lots of students on an individual level. Those kids are the ones that have made my time in grad school so impactful! I've learned that I'm definitely going into the right profession, and I can't wait to start my career in a school this fall!

What is one thing you learned during your studies that surprised you most?

What surprised me the most during my studies is how little people know about what high school counselors do. There's a misconception that all we spend our time on is schedules and testing, but there's so much more to our jobs. We're the primary mental health professional in most schools, and often the only one teenagers have access to. A majority of our training focuses on the use of therapeutic techniques with children and adolescents, in addition to the importance of antiracism education and inclusion in schools. Most of my days are spent meeting one-on-one with students struggling with issues ranging from anxiety and depression to peer conflict. Yes, we do scheduling and testing too, but it's only a small aspect of our job.

What will you be doing next?

I'm currently applying for high school counseling jobs. I plan to move to downtown Richmond and continue my work in schools in the surrounding counties. I want to find ways to bring my passion for the outdoors into my future high school, and I can't wait to get started. I'd love to start an outdoor mindfulness club that combines aspects of rock climbing, hiking and other activities with the concept of mindfulness and positive mental health. 

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