Advocacy Heroine: Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy
Interviewed by Sandi Logan, CSI Leadership Fellow and Professional Advocacy Committee Member; Beta Chapter, University of Florida
Excitement and honor are two of the words that first came to my mind when I was informed that I would be interviewing Dr. Cheryl Holcomb-McCoy, who is known for her scholarly interests in multicultural competence, social justice, school counseling, and college and career readiness. Currently, she serves as the Vice Dean of Academic Affairs and Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Education, but has previously held faculty appointments at the University of Maryland, College Park and Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. She has presented papers at numerous international, national, and state conferences; written numerous textbooks and textbook chapters; and her professional colleagues have recognized her with awards for outstanding research, excellence in teaching, and exemplar service, including ACA’s Mary Smith Arnold Anti-Oppression Award in 2009.
When asked about how she first became interested in advocating for the counseling profession, Dr. Holcomb-McCoy stated that "it was a natural evolution stemming from [her] work as a professional school counselor.” Regularly, she observed children and families whose needs were not being adequately served, for a variety of reasons. This prompted Dr. Holcomb-McCoy to pursue a doctorate so that she could learn more about how to make change and address the needs of those underserved populations. The theme of change transcended throughout my interview with Dr. Holcomb-McCoy asserting that "advocacy is what I do…it’s really pushing for change and being a change agent.” Her passion has led her to pursue scholarly activity in areas such as multicultural competency and social justice that have yielded implications about the importance of advocacy for the counseling profession and our clients alike.
"To maintain our place within our organizations and society” is one of the many reasons why Dr. Holcomb-McCoy feels that advocacy is important. She explained that we, as professional counselors, need to advocate for ourselves and be recognized for our unique skills and training. This is especially true for professional school counselors, who may be the only individual in a school building to have the education and training specific to meeting the academic, career, and personal/social needs of students and families.
One of the exciting advocacy efforts that Dr. Holcomb-McCoy has recently become associated with is that of Obama Administration's Reach Higher Initiative, which is "the First Lady's effort to inspire every student in America to take charge of their future by completing their education past high school, whether at a professional training program, a community college, or a four-year college or university.” Dr. Holcomb-McCoy believes that this is a time in which it is crucial for society to re-embrace the vocational and college and career readiness perspective that was the foundation of the counseling profession. Moreover, this provides the much needed opportunity to advocate for the school counseling profession and the unique skill set that they bring to the school setting.
Some of the advice that Dr. Holcomb-McCoy shares with those counselors-in-training, as well as new counseling professionals, includes:
- Consider the power of advocacy—You never know who you will meet and as such, never burn bridges.
- Advocacy is all about relationships…Take advantage of the opportunity to cultivate relationships (which is something that counselors are skilled at).
- Dispel the notion that you do not have anything to offer—You are value added.
- When early in your career, be a keen observer. Watch and listen to determine who the decision makers are and who your allies are.
- Perhaps most importantly, she shares, "I never take a ‘no’ as absolute, rather as it’s ‘no’ right now.”
Originally posted February 16, 2015 at csi-net.org.