On a cold January day, high school counselor Rob Lundien, ’02, stood in the East Room of the White House and heard Michelle Obama recognize him by name.
“I got a little emotional on stage as we were recognized,” Lundien, a high school counselor in Kansas City, Missouri, said. “We love our jobs and our kids and we put in long hours, and it was overwhelming to think that someone recognized us. I looked out at my student and was so thankful that we were able to bring a little piece of our school with us.”
Meeting senators, talking about student success
Lundien was one of five School Counselor of the Year finalists recognized by the First Lady during the ceremony. The finalists and the School Counselor of the Year, along with a student from each of their schools, participated in three days of events across Washington, D.C.
“They rolled out the red carpet for us from start to finish. It was surreal,” Lundien said. “One day we had the opportunity to meet with our senators and talk about public education, school counseling and student success. I had never met senators before, so I was very honored and appreciated their time.”
On the last day of their trip, the finalists and the School Counselor of the Year received their awards during a banquet at Union Station.
The award, presented by the American School Counselor Association, honors professionals who serve as advocates for the nation’s students, ensuring they are successful in school and prepared for postsecondary options.
“Being recognized with this award was an overwhelming experience,” Lundien said. “I didn’t quite know what to think at first. Why me? There are so many counselors out there who work long hours. There is so much work that has to be done before school, after school and on the weekends. Sometimes there are sacrifices that have to be made because kids need your help. I come in and work hard every day and there are so many other people that do the same thing. Then came the excitement. Someone recognized the hard work I do. And I felt that for all school counselors.”
Helping students focus on their futures
Lundien is a school counselor and department coordinator at Staley High School.
He spends his days helping students discover where their talents and interests align with career opportunities, and helping them explore options for continuing their educations.
“My favorite part of working with students is seeing the aha moment when they realize ‘I can do this,’ or ‘I got that scholarship,’ and getting to play a small part in that process,” Lundien said. “All those moments are why I do what I do. They drive me to keep working hard for the kids I’m working with, hoping to see their success stories down the road.”
Lundien is currently celebrating his 20th year in education. The former band teacher decided to pursue a master’s degree in secondary school counseling at Missouri State after realizing his students sometimes had outside factors that affected their educations.
“Once I got into the program, I realized that’s what I was meant to do. The more I took classes, the more I fell in love. The light bulb went off that I was meant to be a school counselor.”
Since visiting the White House, he has been working with the National Education Association on an initiative about counseling.
“I’m always in a constant state of learning more: How can I be effective and keep making a difference for students in my school?” Lundien said. “I plan to keep becoming a better counselor and better advocate and resource for my students.”