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An Interview with Senior College Guidance Coordinator Shawn Gathas and Senior Katherine Wei - Part One

I got the opportunity to sit down virtually with Shawn Gathas, BASIS Chandler Senior College Guidance Coordinator, and Katherine Wei, BASIS Chandler Senior. I discovered just what college counseling looks like at BASIS Charter Schools, and what it means for students.In Part One, we meet both Mrs. Gathas and Katherine to discuss some of the questions and concerns that students have coming into their counseling sessions.

Mrs. Gathas, could you tell me a little about yourself, and your role as a Senior College Guidance Coordinator?

I bring something unique to the role, because of my past experience. My first career life was in marketing and corporate strategy in Silicon Valley. I had probably twelve years in various software and professional service organizations in high technology.But when it came time to be a mom, I couldn’t travel the world anymore (laughs) so we moved to Arizona and I pursued my Master’s in education. I worked in the Chandler district, and then at BASIS. But I have always worked with extremely motivated students, that makes we do here in college counseling challenging, but extremely rewarding.

Silicon Valley to education? That is a huge leap. What were some of the challenges and similarities between the two industries?

A lot of my Silicon Valley life was helping the tech side and corporate side work together to create marketing materials. A lot of the communication skills I used there translate well to working with students and families.

Katherine, you are currently a senior at BASIS Chandler. Can you tell me about your experience with BASIS Charter Schools? What do you think makes the school and its curriculum unique?

I have been at BASIS since 5th grade. That’s almost half of my life (laughs) and it’s been a great experience. It was a huge transition from what I was used to, especially with how challenging the academics were, but that was the best part of it. BASIS has really pushed me out of my comfort zone, and as a result has allowed me to reach my full potentialThat’s what makes the school so unique. It has prepared me for what college classes will look like. The curriculum is so well-rounded, and all at such an advanced level, so I feel prepared for the future.

Katherine, can you give me an example of when you felt like you were pushed out of your comfort zone and had to be brave?

Last year I picked AP Physics C as my final physics class, and that was a huge leap for me. I hadn’t taken physics since 8th grade, and it’s always been a challenge for me (laughs) Taking on that challenge pushed me out of my comfort zone. Without it I wouldn’t have been able to reach my full potential by trying new things. It was a really great experience.

I would say that taking any physics class is pretty brave!

(both laugh)

At what point did the two of you start working together in college counseling? And how often? What is a “day in the life” of college guidance?

Mrs. Gathas: Obviously, Katherine has been here a long time (laughs) and I’ve seen her grow up little-by-little! Senior year is when we started working together daily, because all the seniors take a daily college counseling class. It’s everything from quality checking their application, to transcripts, to grades. We make each student calculate their own GPA, they go through a reflective writing process, and then there are all the college visits. We have about seventy a year that come and recruit at the school. All of that is day-to-day in class. Those who really invest in the process, like Katherine, are in the office during lunch, after school, and sending us things to review. Sometimes, though, they come in to just sit around and talk about how exhausted they are! Katherine has been a very active member on campus. She wasn’t a new face in college counseling, and it was a real pleasure to have her every day.

Katherine: I was going to college counseling class every day, but I was definitely going in to meet her more often at the peak of college application season, in October and November. Even now that I am not in school anymore, I still pop in to tell her how it is going. (laughs) Mrs. Gathas and the other counselors pay so much attention to their students, and that is another huge thing I really liked about BASIS. Other bigger public schools don’t have that individual focus, and it is something I am appreciative of.

Mrs. Gathas, what are some of the questions and concerns that students are coming to you with in college counseling?

I always spend time with the students encouraging them to put themselves out there. They don’t give themselves enough credit for the people they are, and they need the colleges to understand their drive, motivation, creativity, and responsibility. They start off the process like a checklist. I did this, I did this, I did this. And that’s all great, but what we want to drive them to is, why did you do those things? What did it teach you about yourself? What did it teach you about society? We go through a reflective writing process, where I have them look up their birthday song, and ask them what they think about it. I don’t care if it is embarrassing, or if they like the song, I just want to know what they think. Some come at it by analyzing the lyrics, and some wonder why the song would have been popular at all. But it gets them looking at a broader view of something, and hopefully it gets them looking at a broader view of themselves. Life cannot just be “I did.”

Katherine, what were you hoping to get out of the college guidance experience, and what specific questions and concerns did you have during the process?

One of the primary things I wanted to get out of counseling was how to present myself in the best light through my essays. Like many other students, I went into the process trying to figure out the secret to becoming what the colleges wanted, and sculpting myself into that. It ended up being more important to fine tune and maximize the effectiveness of my essays. That was what I got out of my time with Mrs. Gathas. I was concerned about applying to different colleges in different majors. Would that throw off my application? The other questions I had were specific to the Common App which is the website we use to send our applications to colleges. Like, what do I write in the additional sections? What do I write for the COVID question?  

So, some of those fine details that seem to trip us up?

(laughs) Yes!

Stay tuned for part two where we get to hear about Katherine’s AHA! moment, and how colleges are changing the way they view student applicants.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Interested in BASIS Charters Schools college counseling? Find out more in this article, College Bound with BASIS Charter Schools.

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