JOB: Mary Ann Gonka is assistant director for health professions and science career information at The Career Center. Her main responsibility is to work with students who are interested in health professions such as physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician's assistants, dentistry, pharmacy and optometry. She also works with some pre-med students.
Is this the busiest time of year for you because graduation is coming up?
For me this is the lull before the storm. The students are starting to think about getting their applications for the professional schools ready and they'll need to get those out as soon as possible. The juniors and seniors will be beating down my door in the next two to three weeks because the application cycle for optometry, dentistry and medicine starts June 1.
Do you do more counseling with students about starting their careers or do you do more counseling with students to help them figure out what their majors should be?
I do the gamut. In the general counseling sessions, I see students who want help with resume writing or strategies for job searches. I see freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors and grad students who have decided, for whatever reason, that they need to change their majors or explore other majors. So I see the freshmen exploring their options all the way to grad students who are in a degreed program who have come to realize that their interests are not in that field.
It seems like there should be a couple hundred of counselors like you to help students with this.
Yes, this is definitely not a job that will dwindle down in the next few years. There is a high demand for career counselors. We're very fortunate because we have a decentralized system here on campus in terms of placement for jobs so our role goes beyond assisting students to explore their future options.
Do you think the students know about the Counseling Center or have they yet to discover that you are here?
Many have not discovered us yet. For the most part I think we're starting to get our name out on the street. The Health Careers House and the Career Center just merged within the last year and a half, so our location has changed. Some students are kind of unsure where we are.
Now that we have merged we do health advising and career counseling in sync with each other so all the counselors here are trained in health counseling and general counseling. There are seven of us. We have graduate assistants who do counseling as well. And we have a walk-in resume review available that our grad assistants will do.
Is the career counseling available just to students?
We're available to students, alumni, parents, community members -- pretty much everybody.
What's your background? How did you get into this?
I was one of those students who didn't know what to do with their sociology degree after graduating so I went into banking and human resources. I worked for about a year and a half after I got my undergrad degree at Illinois Wesleyan and I realized I wanted to go back to school. I really thought of career counseling and in my mind I envisioned the career adviser at my high school. I thought that would be my ideal job -- to be a high school career counseling adviser. And so I got my master's degree in counseling with an emphasis in career development.
I did my graduate work at a university in the Chicagoland area. And then the last year of my graduate work I fell upon the job description for the career adviser at my high school. It was open and I applied and I got accepted for the position. But unfortunately, three days before I was supposed to start my position I was diagnosed with leukemia. I ended up having to take nine months off.
My boyfriend at the time was a medical student. So we ended up getting married, moving to Wisconsin and I finished my master's degree -- all about the same time. And for the next three years I worked in the human resources office at the university. I enjoyed it but really missed the contact with students. Then my husband got a joint clinical and academic appointment down here and I applied for this position here on campus. I started Aug. 19.
Are you originally from Chicago?
Born and raised in a small suburb near O'Hare Airport. My husband and I grew up 12 blocks from each other although we didn't know each other.
What do you do when you're not at work?
We just bought a house, a fairly big house, so we're working on decorating that and landscaping it and making it into quite a nice home. And I have really strong family ties so I spend a lot of time between here and Chicago traveling to different family events.
I'm also part of a social sorority -- Alpha Omicron Pi -- and I'm a recruitment adviser and vice president of the alumni group in town. And I've joined an Italian conversation group. I also organized a volleyball team here in the office, and we're just now wrapping up our season.
Do you do a lot of cooking?
I do. That's one of my favorite things. When I go home I like to unwind by cooking and so I really make a lot of homemade stuff. My husband also likes to cook so we have certain rules in our house. If one of us is cooking the other stays completely out of the way. One of us is the chef and the other is the assistant chef.
Is your home in Champaign?
Yes. We're enjoying filling up all the rooms and because of my illness we haven't started a family yet. But my cancer-free anniversary will be coming up later this year. It'll be five years. That is a large milestone in my life and in our lives because then we'll have the opportunity to think about starting a family.