Rebecca Schmidtberger: a City Connects Graduate Assistant

“I am passionate about the gap that exists between educational research and practice,” Rebecca Schmidtberger says. “There’s a lot of wonderful work that’s being done in research settings that isn’t being translated into schools.”

Today, Schmidtberger is a City Connects graduate assistant who has spent her career alternating her work in schools with her own pursuit of higher education.

Her love of education started in classrooms. As a Bates College student, Schmidtberger was chosen to be in the Bonner Leader program for students with a strong interest “in experiential learning and community engagement.” Schmidtberger worked in a local housing project with the Somali community running a program for Somali youth.

“The times that I learned the most and enjoyed the most were when I was applying what I learned in the classroom to my work with students and community members,” she recalls.

Schmidtberger also spent a semester in an immersive Spanish language program in Chile, and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the Chilean education system. After graduating with a major in Spanish and minors in English and teacher education, she got a job teaching at Boston Collegiate Charter School. 

“My primary interest was my students’ lives outside of the classroom and how this impacted their ability to learn. I was interested in the social/emotional component, and I was curious about working with students with disabilities. And I had a huge desire to work with families.

“I was shifting towards applied psychology, and student support was calling my name. So I applied for a master’s degree in school counseling at Boston College.”

Master’s degree in hand, Schmidtberger became a school counselor at Chelsea High School.

“I loved it,” Schmidtberger says of her time in Chelsea, working on students’ social/emotional development and helping them think about college and careers, including undocumented students for whom “the college process was particularly daunting.”

“But I felt drawn, again, to bigger-picture thinking about systems of student support and how under-resourced schools can benefit from more coordinated and comprehensive initiatives.

“I also discovered that I wanted to be one of the providers I was sending students to, because there was so much important work going on in the community, and I could see the need for Spanish speaking clinicians who specialize in working with children and adolescents.”

So Schmidtberger is now back at Boston College enrolled in the PhD program in counseling psychology. She applied to be a graduate assistant at City Connects after having taken a course as a master’s degree student with City Connects’ Executive Director Mary Walsh.

“I was incredibly inspired by Dr. Walsh’s work,” Schmidtberger says. “She and the City Connects team are really pioneers in bridging the research/practice gap, so this position feels like a natural fit.”

As a graduate assistant, Schmidtberger is responsible for producing the Weekly Connect, a City Connects blog post of recent news that helps practitioners keep up with trends in the field. She’s also doing research on how City Connects Coordinators adapted their practice of meeting students’ and families’ needs during the pandemic. She plans to share the results in a poster that will be featured at the American Psychological Association in August. Schmidtberger is also helping to develop curriculum for the Boston College’s school counseling program.

Moving forward, Schmidtberger is interested in doing qualitative research, interviewing students and families to learn more about their City Connects experiences. Once she graduates, she wants a career that blends practice and research. She hopes to be a clinician who does research and might teach at a community college.

For now, though, she’s looking forward to September when one of her Chelsea High School students will be enrolling at Boston College as an undergraduate with a full scholarship.

“We’re going to be students at BC together,” Schmidtberger says. “My students inspired me to come back and now one of them will be on campus with me, so I’ll have the opportunity to continue mentoring her and learning from her. My student will hopefully become my colleague. That’s important because my students’ voices belong in circles of higher education and applied psychology. So I’m really very proud of her.”

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