The president-elect of the American Counseling Association is Brad Erford (Ph.D. ‘93), a proud alumnus of the Curry School. Erford agreed to answer a few questions about his goals for the organization, the influence of Curry on his career, and his advice for new counseling professionals.
What influenced your choices of school counseling and counselor education as a career?
I actually started out in school psychology and was offered a hybrid position school counseling/psychology when the Virginia elementary school counselor mandate was enacted in the late 1980s. I loved working with school-aged youth, but quickly found that I could have a greater systemic impact as a university professor and supervisor. After all, teachers and professors had been my mentors and inspiration for many years. I also have always enjoyed the inquiry/research process and intended to complete a doctorate and pursue scholarly research and writing at a university. The two paths merged in my doctoral study in counselor education at UVA. Being a university professor allows me to train professional school counselors, conduct research, and contribute to the literature that helps shape the discipline and the direction for training future school counselors.
How did you choose the Curry School for your Ph.D. program?
The counselor education program had everything I was looking for: great faculty, a challenging curriculum that could be tailored to my individual passions, and an intellectually stimulating environment. Fortunately it was also convenient to where I lived and worked in Chesterfield County Public Schools (VA).
What did you find most valuable about your experience at Curry?
There was an atmosphere of intellectual curiosity in the Curry School. I have always been inquisitive and scientifically-minded, but I encountered a number of faculty members who really encouraged those traits and helped expand my intellectual and leadership growing edges. But perhaps I most valued the networking and intellectual resources available to me at the Curry School. My advisor and life-long mentor Skip Niles was and still is influential in my career. To this day we collaborate on writing projects; we served on ACA’s Governing Council together over the past three years; and I am an action editor for the Journal of Counseling & Development (ACA’s flagship journal) for which Skip is the Editor. I remember always being welcomed to discuss and plan research designs and statistical analyses with Bruce Gansnader and Don Ball, who expanded my knowledge in these areas immensely. The Curry School was a stimulating, collaborative environment and many faculty members treated the doc candidates as colleagues, rather than students.
What do you enjoy most about your work at Loyola?
I love teaching, serving, and producing scholarship, so being a university professor is my dream job. My grandmother once told me that if I get a job I absolutely love, I’ll never work another day the rest of my life – and grandma was correct, as usual! I have the autonomy to write about my passions and much of my effort is aimed at creating textbooks that will help educate and train the next generation of professional counselors. But I derive the greatest excitement and pride from working with students on publishing scholarly articles, theses, and other projects. Most every year I mentor and publish with a five to ten of my master’s students who have the same intellectual curiosity I myself had, with an attitude of self-challenge and self-growth, and maybe even an eye toward completing a doctoral degree. I think mentoring and creating opportunities for intellectual inquiry is critical to the future of schools of education.
How did your Curry School experience play a role in preparing you for a path of leadership?
Professional identity and leadership were expectations imparted throughout our experiences in the Curry School and especially in the counselor education department. You could not experience the gravitas of a Bob Pate, Skip Niles, or Sandra Lopez-Baez and NOT understand that you were expected to assume a leadership position in a diverse and changing world. I developed a strong professional identity as a counselor, social justice orientation, and respect for how education changes lives. I also regularly meet alumni from UVA who have taken leadership positions in national, regional, state, and local counseling associations.
What is the most pressing issue in your field that you hope to be able to address as president of ACA?
While there are numerous pressing issues at this time in the history of the counseling profession, I think two are particularly critical. First, we need to do a better job orienting our master’s students, doctoral students, and new professionals to the profession of counseling. Many still look at their graduate degree as necessary only to get a job, rather than as a specialized discipline and life-long career path. I will emphasize creating incentives and mentoring for student members to help them transition into their professional years as continuing members of a vibrant professional association. Second, I will promote outcome research and use of evidence-based practices in counseling. We know a great deal about what works in counseling, but there is a great deal more we need to explore and uncover to best serve the public and move our profession forward.
What advice do you have for Curry alumni from either the master's or doctoral degree program who are fairly new in their careers?
Network, network, network! Classes and working with fellow students of professors on projects is one thing, but really focus on expanding your horizons outside of the University. Get out and meet colleagues at state, regional and national meetings – and really meet and connect with them! This is critical at any juncture in a young professional’s career – and not just during tough economic times. Donald Super, a career developmental theorist, wrote about “planned happenstance” – which loosely translated means taking advantage of opportunities that occur by being in the right place at the write time. You just never know when your network connections will create the perfect opportunity to launch, support, or transition your career trajectory. It happens frequently to all of us.