An innate desire to help people and make a difference drove Dr. Lesley Casarez to make a career change over a decade ago, and now both she and her ASU students are reaping the benefits.
A Big Lake native, Casarez has received a plethora of accolades over the past year, including the 2015 Counseling Educator of the Year Award from the Texas School Counselor Association (TSCA) and a nomination for the ASU President’s Award for Faculty Excellence. More recently, she was named president-elect of TSCA and was recognized as one of San Angelo’s “Top 20 under 40.”
Ironically, Casarez did not initially pursue a career in academia.
“I actually got my bachelor’s degree in magazine design from the University of Texas,” Casarez said. “When I finished, I went to work at Dell. I was getting paid a lot of money, but I wasn’t helping people. It wasn’t a fulfilling job. So I thought, ‘What else can I do?’ Teaching seemed like the next logical step.”
So, Casarez went back to school and earned her master’s degree and teaching certification. She taught in Round Rock and Austin for three years before moving back to Big Lake, where she again enhanced her education with a counseling degree and certification, along with her principal’s certificate.
“One thing led to another,” Casarez said, “and we ended up in San Angelo. I worked at SAISD as a curriculum specialist. That position was grant funded, so when the grant ran out, I started looking for another job and I saw there was a graduate advising position open at ASU.”
“It was advising people who wanted to be counselors, principals and superintendents,” she continued. “I had a counseling certificate, I had a principal’s certificate. It was a perfect fit. I loved it from the get go.”
Dr. James Summerlin, chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, then encouraged her to return to school one final time to complete her doctorate. By the time she finished, a teaching position had opened up at ASU, and she slid right in.
Now an assistant professor, Casarez leads ASU’s online guidance and counseling graduate program that boasts an enrollment of about 500 students and is consistently recognized as one of the top programs of its kind in the nation for both quality and affordability. But constant improvement is still her goal.
“Our department is currently working on a curriculum crosswalk,” Casarez said. “My part is trying to make sure that every class we offer is meeting the guidelines that are set by the American School Counseling Association. That way, when students graduate, we know they’ve touched on all the areas that the national organization thinks are important.”
The recognition she receives for her work is just a bonus.
“I hope I’m bringing recognition to ASU. We want to be the leader in school counseling, and I think we are one of the bigger programs in the state.”
“Receiving Counseling Educator of the Year was fantastic because it was at the state level and I was up against all the other people who teach school counseling at universities,” Casarez said. “I was so surprised when I won.”
“However,” she continued, “receiving Top 20 under 40 was awesome because it’s great to have local recognition. I like that they really focus on how people in our community are contributing to volunteer organizations and how you’re helping the community as a whole.”
As president-elect of TSCA, Casarez will serve as chair of the Bylaws Committee until July 2017 before moving to the official duties of president-elect. Throughout the three-year commitment, one of her main goals will be to create more cohesion between various counseling groups.
“There is currently a lot of disagreement at the state level,” Casarez said. “I think if we are all helping people, there doesn’t need to be division.”
In addition to her teaching duties and upcoming state responsibilities, Casarez also serves as the local chapter president for the Phi Kappa Phi national honor society, as well as president of the Three Rivers Counseling Organization. She also reviews grants for the U.S. Department of Education.
“I hope I’m bringing recognition to ASU,” Casarez said. “We want to be the leader in school counseling, and I think we are one of the bigger programs in the state.”
“The more recognition that we get through the state,” she added, “the more credible the program becomes and the more people will want to come here and work with those specific faculty members. ASU has become a destination school.”
I Chose ASU - Dr. Lesley Casarez
How did you find out about ASU?
I grew up in Big Lake, so I’ve known about ASU my whole life. When I was graduating high school, ASU was the “second choice” college, but I think it has come a long way since then and is now a destination school!
Where is your favorite place on campus and why?
I love the Lake House. A friend and I took up paddle boarding this summer and were able to go kayaking a few times as well. It’s a great activity!
What has been one of your most memorable experiences since coming to ASU?
I can’t think of one thing in particular. I love getting emails from students about how the education they received here has helped them in their current job or how much they enjoyed a class.
Was there anything about ASU that surprised you when you started working here?
There are always so many things going on, whether it is faculty research or student activities, or involvement in the community. The variety of places to plug in help students and faculty feel connected.
What would you say to prospective students who are considering attending ASU?
The faculty want to help you succeed. Communication with them and letting them know where you need help will help you in the long run. Don’t think we are able to read your mind and know what you get or don’t get.