April 28, 2020


DePaul’s influence on Alum Brian Coleman’s journey to National School Counselor of the Year

Brian Coleman, a 2014 DePaul College of Education alum, brings his signature energy to this episode of DePaul Download to discuss being named 2019’s National School Counselor of the Year and how his DePaul experience helped him and his career. The counselor at Jones College Prep in Chicago shares his “unicorn philosophy” and provides a glimpse into what high student face today, giving a picture of an alum who exemplifies “Here, We Do.”



LINDA BLAKLEY: Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host, Linda Blakley, Vice President of University Marketing and Communications. 

DePaul alumnus, Brian Coleman, was honored in 2019 as National School Counselor of the Year. When you hear about his multifaceted work at Jones College Prep in Chicago, superhero may be a more apt title. 

Brian offers college planning advice and champions programs that support students' emotional and social wellbeing. He advises student organizations, including the high school's LGBTQ group. He flips cartwheels on stage to pump up the freshman. He takes on personas, Geordi La Forge from Star Trek, a king, a pirate, in the name of school spirit. He makes a difference in students' lives and brings the fun. He helps students find their strengths. In short, he exemplifies what DePaul means by “Here, We Do.” 

Brian, a 2014 graduate of the College of Education, is here to tell us about how life has changed since receiving his national honor. 

Thank you for joining me. 

BRIAN COLEMAN: Thank you for having me. Wow, what an introduction. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: Watching your video submission for the National School Counselor of the Year award wore me out. High energy doesn't begin to describe you. Tell me what the last year has been like. 

BRIAN COLEMAN: The last year has been an amazing whirlwind. I went from being a school counselor in my school to traveling around the country serving as an ambassador to the profession, speaking to school counselors and at different communities about the work that school counselors do. 

It's been amazing and beautiful and challenging and rigorous, and it's allowed me access to the work and to education communities in ways that I didn't honestly know existed before I won this award. It's incredible. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: So what made you want to focus your energy and talents on becoming a school counselor? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: Well, I realized – I mean, my background is in theater, and I graduated with a theater degree. I moved into alumni relations and development for a few years and I realized, though I was working in higher education, I wasn't making the impact that I wanted to, the direct service to students that I wanted. 

And as an actor, I had traveled around to high schools in the Chicagoland area doing LGBTQ/youth homelessness related pieces. And I got to participate in talkbacks with students and I was like, wow, I didn't know these conversations occur in schools. I want to be able to do that in a meaningful way in high schools who talks to students about identity development. Who does that work? Oh, school counselors do. Great. I'm going to go get a master's in that. And here we are. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: So what brought you to DePaul for your masters? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: You know, I was looking into different counselor prep programs and I was looking for something that really aligned with my goals, my passion, my vision for making change in schools, and I learned about DePaul's Vincentian personalism and I was like, wow, here is a school that is naming exactly what I want to be doing, service to marginalized communities. 

No other counselor prep program could speak to me in that way. The mission and vision was not as clear as what I experienced when I looked into DePaul. I was like, great, I've got to learn more. I'm going to go talk to them. And here we are a number of years later and DePaul continues to change my life in some incredible ways. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: So once you started taking classes, did you have any moments or experiences in the College of Education that made you realize you were in the right place?

BRIAN COLEMAN: Yes. I can think a lot about one of my classes, multicultural counseling, and it was such an incredible experience learning from a professor who really could name for us how to engage in inclusive practice, diverse work, but first starting with where are we coming from, who are we, what are we about, what are our obstacles or biases, and how can we work together to make a difference. 

I take a lot of those tools and lessons with me into the workplace. I mean, I'm a black, gay, cisgender man working with a lot of students from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of identities, and having that multicultural competence has really served me so well and been such a huge part of the work that I do. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: How did you see DePaul's Vincentian mission manifest in your studies? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: When I knew from an early age that I was different and that I wanted to make a difference in a meaningful way for students who have been marginalized for a variety of systemic or personal reasons. 

At DePaul, I came in knowing I want to work in public education, and I want to do work around gender and sexuality and race. In my studies, like multicultural competence or how to create comprehensive counseling programs using data-informed techniques that really showed me how to take these passions and goals and apply them in very practical ways to the work of a counselor, a role that is often misunderstood. I mean, we still battle with people who call counselors guidance counselors. We're not guidance counselors. Right? That's not what we are. School counselors. And being able to engage in that work and make an impact in schools and then progress monitor the impact that we're making and share that, share that with our administration, share that with our teachers. 

Now as an ambassador for the profession, share that globally what the work can be when we take our passion and translate that into programming. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: So you're the counseling department chair at Jones College Prep, and it's a high school that's just down the street from DePaul's Loop Campus. 


LINDA BLAKLEY: What challenges do you see your students facing today? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: I, woo, how much time do we have? My goodness. 

No. I think I work at a high performing high school, and our population specifically, and I think this is honestly an issue that many students face outside of our school across the country, anxiety, a lot of anxiety, a lot of pressure to excel and achieve. 

I feel that students aren't told enough that they have value, they have meaning just as they are, and really encouraged to be themselves. You know what? You don't have to be like anyone else. You don't have to accomplish anyone else's goals. What do you want? How can we in education as education supporters and teachers help you get where you want to go? 

And I think anxiety, depression, the socioemotional aspects of education are sometimes overlooked in favor of the metrics supporting standardized testing and college and career readiness. I don't think that students are truly college and career ready unless they have a clear sense of who they are, they have the coping skills to manage a changing economy, a changing sociopolitical climate, and changing wants and desires and needs as their lives change. 

So I think those are some of the issues that come up for our students and I think we as educators need to do more to incorporate socioemotional learning into our schools and into our communities. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: What role did Jones College Prep have in creating the school counselor that you've become? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: Well, I interned at Jones and then transitioned directly from internship into full-time counseling and I've been there for the last 6-7 years. The counselor that I am was born, right, and cultivated at Jones. One big piece of that for me was coming into a team that really supported me. And by support, I mean they allowed me to try out programming, to take my passion and apply it directly to direct service to students. They listened to me. They affirmed that I had a voice, I had an opinion and perspective that had value. And when someone believes in you, it's transformative. Right? 

And I had a team of counselors of women, of women of color, who looked at me and said, you know what, you've got something to give in this profession and we're going to help you make that happen. And so that level of support really, really helped me grow, and then more than anything, my students. 

The students at Jones are lovely and quirky and hilarious and brilliant and their willingness to engage with me around their own growth and development, it makes the work possible. There is no counselors – no school counseling without the youth, without the students, and their willingness to engage with me and go on this journey with me made this happen. My students and my team have been really huge supporters and big influences in the counselor that I've become. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: You once said your goal is to help students understand that individuality is the key to their success. You call it your unicorn philosophy. Could you explain that philosophy? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: Yeah. I mean, I think it's first important to understand how I became a unicorn. 

When I was interviewing for a job with Jones, at the end of the interview, looking at four women who knew me well, I'd interned with them, they asked the question, well, why you? Of all the people we've seen, why you? And I was so nervous, and I was so anxious, and I was sweating. And before I could even think about it, I blurted out because I'm a unicorn, and then I went on to explain my diverse perspectives, skills, interests make me a unique candidate for this role that they may never see again. 

I meant it and they knew that I meant it. They were all shook. And I was shook. I walked out. I got the job. And then on my first day when I opened up the door to my office, there was a unicorn sitting on my desk. Right? And that joke became a huge part of how I understood the work of a counselor. 

And for me, the unicorn philosophy is really about taking a strength-based approach to student support. We don't have to harp on your weaknesses or your deficits, the things that you do wrong. Let's talk about the things that you do right that really work for you and are helping you get where you want to be. I think it's very important that students leave high school knowing what makes them special, what skills they have, and how they can apply them regardless of what they do, regardless of where they go, how can they take their unique perspective, thoughts, desires, passions and lead the lives that they want to lead. That's the unicorn philosophy. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: Promoting diversity and inclusion is core to who you are. Did you see this reflected in the curriculum at DePaul? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: Absolutely. I think back, and actually for right now, I'm reflecting on a time I always felt wildly supported at DePaul, wildly included. 

At no point did I feel that my voice didn't matter, that I didn't have a perspective. I watched my professors and my other classmates really support each other and sharing your truth, coming from the I voice, what do you have to provide and a willingness to learn and grow together. 

I think even now, I go back and I teach at DePaul and I guest speak and I lead panels and I sit on panels. I just really enjoy that DePaul has always embraced me as I am and continues to support me as Brian, right, and as a counselor and as a unique individual with a lot to contribute. It's one of the most fulfilling relationships I've ever had because DePaul has my back and that feels amazing. Go Demons. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: So you were featured in an alumni video during DePaul's Here We Do ad campaign. To date, your video has more than 360,000 views. It's been shown on our “Here, We Do” webpage, all over social media, YouTube, at basketball games, and in student recruitment materials. What's it like to go from student to practitioner to one of the faces of the campaign? 

BRIAN COLEMAN: It's amazing and incredibly humbling. 

I was speaking to last year's graduates from the program that I came through and I was saying to them, wow, it feels like yesterday I was where you are, right, and I couldn't be where I am today without DePaul and to be able to sing the praises of DePaul and talk about my experience in how DePaul has truly changed my life personally and professionally. 

It's this amazing full-circle experience. There are few things that – actually, that was about to be a lie. I was going to say there are few things that get me geeked or excited to speak about. As you see, I have a lot of excitement. It's very easy to get me excited to speak about things. 

But speaking about DePaul, I could do it in my sleep, I could do it until I'm 95 years old. It's just so meaningful, the relationship is so meaningful, the experiences have been so meaningful in that I get to engage with the DePaul community and prospective students in this way. It's really special and I'm so incredibly grateful. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: Brian, you are truly an inspiration. I know I'm not the only one who is really proud that you're a Blue Demon. Thank you for your work and tireless advocacy for young adults. 

BRIAN COLEMAN: Thank you for having me. 

LINDA BLAKLEY: I'm Linda Blakley. Thank you for listening to this episode of DePaul Download presented by DePaul's Division of University Marketing and Communications. ​