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A calling to help youth spurs career change

March 8, 2023

Counseling and Psych Svs. GRAD School of HHS Stories

Aleksa Khamda has worked in healthcare since 2014, serving as a medical technician while she was in the Air Force and most recently at Mayo Clinic as a medical administrator. She also has a bachelor’s degree in healthcare management.

But an important part of her history has led her to a different career calling — and to attend classes at Saint Mary’s University’s Rochester Campus.

At the age of 9, Khamda was adopted from Russia and brought to the United States. Armed with this first-hand experience and the knowledge she is obtaining from her courses, she hopes to counsel children, particularly foster children or adopted children and their families.

“That’s one of the reasons I really want to do counseling and get my M.A. in Counseling and Psychological Services,” she said. “I want to work with children who have experienced adversity and their families. My goal is to work with kids and to help them obtain tools to get them through hard times.” 

As a veteran, she looked for schools that were veteran friendly; as an adult learner, she looked for flexibility and a school whose mission aligned with her own.

“One of the main reasons I chose Saint Mary’s is because it was an in-person program which is what I was looking for,” she said. “As I am using my GI Bill, it was important to me that I find a school that has experience working with veterans using the GI program. The VA (Veterans Affairs) has had a lot of changes, and the school has been so good at keeping up with all that information,” she said. “When COVID hit, and everything switched to online, the VA was good about letting us take online courses. Once everything was back to normal, the VA said no more online courses, but Saint Mary’s was still doing online courses, so they offered for me to sit in person with a teacher. No other school was providing that.

“Also, (the university’s) values align with mine,” she added. “What really stood out to me is Saint Mary’s vision in supporting students’ needs and success in their careers. I’ve found this to be true, because our program director is so wonderful in keeping in touch with us all. She ensures we are where we need to be in the program and asks  if we’re having any difficulties. Even my husband decided to go to Saint Mary’s (in the MBA program) because they have flexible programs that meet our needs.”

Khamda said the idea of going into counseling has been in the back of her mind ever since she was a teenager. 

“I just had a huge fear of failing, so I never considered going to school for it,” she admitted. But after the birth of her second child, she took some time off work and examined the direction she wanted her career to take.

“It gave me time to think about things and what I truly want to do,” she said. “I was happy in my job (at Mayo Clinic) and with my coworkers, but I just didn’t feel like the passion was there. I loved dealing with patients, but it was more so on the back end of things. I really wanted to be able to help the patients.”

Her husband cheered her on to apply. “He said, ‘You just have to go for it.’ We did a lot of praying about it, and I decided that counseling is what I wanted to do. My passion lies in making a difference. Even if I make the smallest impact in an individual’s life to improve their well-being, then I’d be happy.”

Now halfway through the program, Khamda said she’s happy with the decisions she’s made. 

“I know they are offering this program online, but I enjoy going in person,” she said. “In person, there is more discussion. The teachers have been wonderful and make the classes very interactive. If you ever have a question, they’re always ready to address it and are willing to help with any issues you may have. I have two children, ages 2 and 4, so it’s sometimes difficult to attend in person, but they’re always willing to accommodate by sending a Zoom link.

“There’s a lot of reading, which is expected in a masters level program,” she added. “But the teachers make the information easy to understand and it’s very engaging. They make you think about how you can apply these techniques when you are out in the career field.”

Khamda advises students that graduate school is doable, particularly because of evening courses, but advises students to look for support. “The faculty and program directors are always there to assist you if you are in need of anything,” she said. “I definitely love the program. I am enjoying it and learning a lot from the program, and I can’t wait to apply it all in the field.”