Curry Student wins Grand Prize in American Counseling Association Essay Competition

Claire NawojchikClaire Nawojchik, a master’s student in the Curry School of Education’s Counselor Education program, won the Grand Prize in the 2014 American Counseling Associations (ACA)’s Future School Counselors Essay Competition.

Each year the ACA foundation asks student members to submit essays in two competitions, the Future School Counselors Essay Competition (sponsored by the Roland and Dorothy Ross Trust) and the Graduate Student Essay Competition (sponsored by Gerald and Marianne Corey and Allen and Mary Bradford Ivey).  Over 400 essays were submitted this year.

Nawojchik’s entry rose to the top in the Future School Counselors competition. Her winning essay will be published in a 2014 issue of Counseling Today and she will be honored at the ACA Conference and Exposition in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“I decided to enter the essay competition because I love to write,” said Nawojchik. “I was an English major during my undergraduate study at U.Va. and participated in a number of writing workshops. This competition seemed like the perfect combination of my two passions: school counseling and writing.”

The prompt for this year’s competition asked students to describe what aspect of the counseling profession drew them to the career.

“My essay focused on the transformative power of empathy,” said Nawojchik. “I gave examples of different students and parents I interact with at my internship, and how empathy helps me understand their stories and immerse myself in their realities.”
In her studies, Nawojchik has learned that empathy is a way to empower someone to change, to first meet them where they are, listen to them, and genuinely care about them.

“I think a unique challenge of being a counselor is being empathetic enough to see the world through other individuals’ eyes, while simultaneously never losing sight of your own identity,” Nawojchik said.

Nawojchik’s advisor, Derick Williams, assistant professor and director of the Counseling Education program, was not surprised by her accomplishment.

“Claire has excelled in her coursework throughout our program,” Williams said.  “Her counseling skills are impeccable, and she has provided exceptional service at her internship site, Crozet Elementary,” said Williams. “Though I am ecstatic about this honor, I am not surprised that she rose to the top of the group of participants.” 

Two other master’s students in the Counselor Education program, Emily Bess and Holly Shepherd, were awarded Honorable Mentions in the same completion.