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Profiles & Awards

Monday, August 03, 2015

Mr. Colin Smith - Fort Lewis College Achievement Award

Mr. Colin Smith
Mr. Colin Smith

When Colin Smith starts his year at Student Orientation, he uses a metaphor that doesn’t particularly ease the minds of the parents who are dropping off their children. He asks, “Do you know those rivers in Africa that the migrating herds must cross? Well, your kids have just come to one.” And then he asks, “Knowing your child, what do you worry about?” This starts one of those necessary and valuable dialogues.

“The good news is this: most of our students not only cross, but learn a great deal from their time in the water,” he says. “It’s our job at the Counseling Center to take full advantage of problems. It turns out that college life is an ideal time to confront and learn from them. While most of these issues are what I’d call normal life crises, when someone is floundering or going down in the river of life, we’re the ones you want to call.”

Mr. Smith, the winner of this year’s Fort Lewis College Achievement Award, has worked here as a counselor and teacher since the 1980s. His efforts have touched countless students and he has helped to make the Counseling Center’s presence on campus and in the community more visible.

“I see us as an important adjunct to the academic mission, since we work with the problems that most often interfere with academic success.”

Many FLC students have taken advantage of what Mr. Smith and his talented colleagues offer in their individual sessions and groups. Each year about 20 percent of the student body presents for counseling. In fact, so many were coming it was becoming one of those fruitful problems.

Eight years ago, as training director for the Center, he began actively recruiting graduate students in counseling and social work programs to help with the load. In return for the advanced training and supervision, the interns helped the Counseling Center to meet the increasing need with little increase in budget.

“We’re a fully-fledged training center now, and regularly have up to ten interns at any one time. Most stay for two years and many, after receiving their doctorates or master’s degrees in counseling or social work, stay for a third or fourth year. The quality and skill of care has continued to improve. To say I’m proud of this program is an understatement.”

Every Thursday you can find Mr. Smith and another staff member in Training Group. “There we teach the interns the necessary clinical skills and we carefully supervise their work through video and case presentations. We also teach how to engage students in a dialogue where they are encouraged to find their problems interesting and valuable. Most students, it turns out, can learn and grow from almost anything.”

It’s a process that Mr. Smith has shared with students for more than twenty-five years and now, as he prepares to retire, he’s ready to pass on his skills to a new generation of counselors. He said it’s time to be a grandfather here.

“When I came to Fort Lewis, I was surprised to find such a vibrant Counseling Center and I had a vision of how we could grow. Now, we have a team and a center that’s pretty close to living that dream I imagined back then.”    

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