Andi Fessler

MA in Counseling, specialization in Clinical Mental Health Counseling

About Me

I am originally from Temecula, California, commonly known as wine country just north of San Diego. I relocated to Arizona after I graduated high school and I received my undergraduate degree from Arizona State University, graduating with a bachelor of arts in psychology. Throughout my undergraduate career I worked as a legal assistant for a family law attorney, where I gained experience working with family counselors as a byproduct of my position. I continued my work with the firm for the entirety of my undergraduate studies as well as the following year prior to my relocation to San Diego.

What do you hope to do with your degree?

At the onset of my career I intend to utilize my degree within a community service organization to gain experience in a diverse environment. Ultimately, I hope to transition to a higher education environment where I am employed at a university counseling center. The transition college students undergo fascinates me and the dynamic shifts college is typically characterized by stoke my interest in this young adult population.

How did you hear about SOLES, and why did you choose to enroll?

I initially discovered SOLES during an extensive graduate school review of all master of counseling programs on the west coast. As my investigation deepened, I discovered I craved a clinical emphasis that is much more difficult to come across. As my search narrowed, and my focus became clear, I found that USD was the right fit with respect to program emphasis, small class sizes and an exceptional practicum supervision program. Ultimately, selecting a graduate program was an intimate and personal journey in which I had to determine which university was the best fit for me. Transitioning from a large state university, I felt USD’s intimate and narrowly defined program was most well designed to facilitate my career goals.

Are you currently working?

I am currently a full time student and do not work outside of my roles on campus. Because I am a Dean Merit Scholarship Fellow I received a relatively large scholarship which enabled me to be financially comfortable not working while I progress through the program. Additionally, my scholarship requires me to fulfill the role of graduate assistant to a faculty member, wherein I complete research tasks over the course of the semester and a set number of hours must be fulfilled. Additionally, I utilize my time effectively by serving as a mentor to first year Counseling students and participating in research opportunities and conferences throughout the school year.

Tell us about any internships, graduate assistantships, student teaching, practicum or fieldwork you have done through SOLES.

Throughout my graduate studies I have maintained a merit based graduate assistantship that has facilitated a rich wealth of research experience ranging from forensic populations such as juvenile fire setters and bomb makers, to positive psychology interventions with adolescents.  Moreover, as I begin my final year of study, I will be conducting my practicum experience at Center for Community Solutions.  CCS remains the sole rape crisis center in San Diego County and serves survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder abuse.  I will be a counseling trainee at their Pacific Beach location and facilitating individual, group and family therapy within this diverse population of survivors of trauma.   

Tell us about any research or independent study you have done at SOLES.

I have had the opportunity to present at conferences and further study a variety of populations. While Dr. Johnson typically is forensically oriented, studying topics such as terrorism, police personnel selection and training, he also provides the opportunity to explore personal interests. As such, Dr. Johnson has recently facilitated an opportunity for me to partner with an external organization designed to facilitate students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds reaching college education goals. This organization will enable me to study college populations including what facilitates a smooth transition to higher education, what contributes to persistence and completion of degrees, and which resources students find most helpful.

Moreover, I have had the opportunity to utilize positive psychology and mindfulness interventions within a diverse population of adolescents.  This clinical experience is also in the process of materializing into conference presentations and has facilitated a beautiful bridge between research and clinical experience.  

Have you completed an international experience?

I completed my international experience during the summer of 2013 through a cultural immersion trip to Jamaica. Rather than staying at resort accommodations, surrounded by fellow travelers and tourists, we stayed in a small remote community. We resided with house moms in a small community in which we were able to do our own grocery shopping with local inhabitants and attend weekend BBQs. We were presented the opportunity to work in a group home for girls. Many were survivors of abuse or were court mandated to reside at the home. Moreover, we were able to travel across the island to popular destinations such as Negril Beach. 

Further, in the summer of 2014 I was fortunate enough to travel to Bali for my second cultural immersion trip through SOLES.  Through the Bali Institute for Peace and Renewal, we were able to stay in Ubud, Mengwi, and Amed, each of which carried with it a unique facet of Balinese culture.  We interacted with non-profit disaster response teams, attended traditional Balinese dance performances, and participated in laugher yoga, just to name a few of our experiences.  Exposure to Balinese culture and their perceptions of trauma and mental health has broadened my perception of culture and trauma within counseling and has contributed yet another dimension of understanding and awareness to my clinical lens.   

While the program does not mandate traveling, and there are other means by which this requirement can be satisfied, I strongly encourage students to take advantage of this opportunity. Having the chance to be truly immersed in a new culture, and to work with individuals who have an entirely novel perspective of life, love, culture and struggle, truly shapes the way in which I internalize much of the information I have received in subsequent courses.

How has your SOLES education impacted your career goals?

SOLES has enabled me to more freely explore my career goals. While I was already relatively certain of my career goals and aspirations upon entering the program, I have had the opportunity to pursue outside interests pertaining to research, faculty mentor relationships, connections with students from other programs and department involvement. SOLES provides a unique environment to build relationships with others who provide innovative perspectives and guidance during this educational journey. I believe that SOLES has facilitated my personal journey, providing environments where ideas can be freely exchanged and questions can be posed without fear of judgment or reprisal. Moreover, given that SOLES is a relatively small and intimate department, opportunity for personalization of your program is readily available. While course structures are provided to you, external involvement and activities are yours to pursue at will. The resources are available; you simply have to be aggressively pursuing them.

Which class has impacted you the most?

Personally, my Law and Ethics course has impacted me most significantly thus far. At the onset of my CMHC studies I had a great looming fear of the dreaded “malpractice lawsuits” or “ethical violations” stories I often read in the media. I found that my ethics course put me at ease and provided me with the necessary knowledge to navigate though an often complex and challenging profession with confidence. The course was characterized by an exchange of ideas and debate rather than simple didactic learning, and I felt as though I truly had the integrative and in-depth information I needed to relieve my concerns.

Are there specific SOLES faculty, staff or administrators you feel have contributed significantly to your success?

Ana Estrada and Ronn Johnson have served as outstanding faculty mentors over the course of my time spent at SOLES. I feel at ease seeking guidance, professional or otherwise, from each of these individuals and respect their experience and expertise in the field. Each has provided me with research experience, allowing me to integrate my personal interests and preferences when appropriate, and they serve as wonderful sounding boards for any concerns or fears I may have. Ultimately, I feel they respect their students as future professionals and treat SOLES students as colleagues. I appreciate their confidence in their students and the respect they hold for us.

What are your plans for after graduation?

After graduation I look forward to obtaining my two-year internship that will enable me to apply for state licensure. Following my licensure, my dream is to work for a junior college, or four-year university, in a counseling position. I would love to arrive on a higher education campus each morning and work with individuals who are grappling with difficult life circumstances that are frequently present at the onset of adulthood. Further down the line in my career I would love to open a private practice.

Is there anything else you would like to share with prospective students?

Ultimately, your experience as a SOLES student is what you make of it. Each student has the opportunity to tailor their academic experience and propel himself or herself into the workforce if they so chose. Take advantage of all the opportunities that will surround you and pursue your goals aggressively. The SOLES family will provide an immense amount of support and guidance throughout this journey, so, as a wise friend once said, "Dare greatly!"