Christine Park says UH Hilo provided her with a solid foundation, helping her gain the essential knowledge and experience to be a mental health counselor. She now runs an adult education program that helps students improve their lives by finding career pathways.
By Lauren Okinaka.
Park is now coordinator of the Individualized Career Achievement Network or iCAN transition program, a community-based initiative she established at the Waipahu Community School for Adults (WCSA), which has campuses on O‘ahu and Hawai‘i Island. The iCAN program helps students improve their lives by finding career pathways, whether to college or workforce training. It’s based at WCSA, which helps students earn their high school equivalency credentials and improve workplace skills. Qualified students can enroll in iCAN.
Park earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Gonzaga University in 2004 before enrolling in the graduate program in counseling psychology at UH Hilo. She was in the very first cohort of the program, graduating in 2007. “I wasn’t sure if I was ready for graduate school and if I wanted to spend another two as a student,” she says. “Ultimately, it was the best decision I ever made.” After working several state jobs as a teacher, counselor, and behavior health specialist, she went on to earn a doctorate in counselor education and supervision from Walden University in 2019.
Park, whose main goals are to serve and help the community, says UH Hilo provided her with a solid foundation, helping her gain the essential knowledge and experience to be a mental health counselor.
“To be able to complete a master’s in counseling psychology, and to be able to do it at home was very exciting,” she says.
She fondly remembers her first day of graduate school.
“My fellow classmates came from such diverse backgrounds, and I remember thinking that it was pretty special to be amongst such wonderful classmates and colleagues with such an array of experiences,” she says. “I knew from the start that we would be lifelong friends and colleagues.”
She still keeps in touch with the students from her cohort. They provide guidance and support even after graduation.
A meaningful career
Park started her work at the Waipahu Community School for Adults in 2015. The school serves half of O‘ahu as well as the island of Hawai‘i with campuses in Hilo and Kona.
She was hired at WCSA to develop and coordinate all aspects of the academic and career transition initiative called the iCAN Transition Program. Success stories abound.
“At one of our iCAN sites, we received a referral from one of our partner agencies in vocational rehabilitation,” she says. “The student was interested in pursuing education, but had anxiety and did not quite meet the academic skill requirements.” The student enrolled in the iCAN program and Park worked with her on math and language arts while helping her to feel safe and confident in her abilities. She helped the student explore career options and identified her strengths and skills.
The student was anxious about registering for college, meeting new support staff, and being in an unfamiliar situation, so Park coordinated with the counselor at the college to meet with them so she could make an easy transition. “By meeting with the three of us, the student was able to make the connection that we are all a team together, which helped to alleviate her anxiety,” Park says.
The student attended college and also stayed with the adult education program during her first semester. “It was a way for her to gradually build her confidence and have a safe place to come back to until she felt comfortable and confident,” Park says. “Eventually, she stopped enrolling with WCSA and took just college courses. She earned her associate’s degree with excellent grades and is currently working on her bachelor’s degree.”
Chad Okinaka, vice principal of WCSA’s Hilo and Kona campuses, notes that Park has helped many WCSA students through the iCAN program. “She’s a good mentor for the students she supervises,” he explains. “She supports our teachers in many ways including providing training opportunities as well as college and career resources to help them and their students succeed.”
Park’s dedication is also acknowledged through a series of accolades. She was selected as a 2017 Doctoral Fellow for the National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship Program, and a 2018 Emerging Leader for the Western Association for Counselor Education and Supervision. In 2019, she was selected as Emerging Leader for the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES).
Giving back to UH Hilo
Park also works with students in the master of arts program in counseling psychology at UH Hilo. “It is a way to give back to a program that has done so much for me, but more importantly, it is an opportunity to provide support and guidance to help usher in the next generation of counselors,” Park says. “I feel so honored and privileged to witness the benefits of a partnership between the master’s program and WCSA.”
The mission of the university’s graduate program in counseling psychology is to provide multicultural, student-centered training.
Charmaine Higa-McMillan, professor and director of the program, says the university is fortunate to have Park serving as a supervisor for students enrolled in the practicum field experience while in the counseling program. “I repeatedly hear from students about how much they value Christine’s supervision and expertise,” she says.
The new normal
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced Park to move into a virtual world. Many of WCSA’s services are now online.
“We were all forced into a world of isolation and technology that many of us were not ready for,” she says. “COVID-19 has made me more aware of the work that needs to be done in our community to help those who are marginalized and to provide better and more diverse access to care and support.”
Park says that being part of WCSA is a way for her to be part of a solution to address challenges in her community.
“The cake and the real substance of it all is being able to serve and help our community,” Park says. “At the end of the day, all the experience and accolades that I have earned as a result of attending the master’s program are the icing.”
-Story by Lauren Okinaka, who is earning a bachelor of arts in communication with a minor in English.