By Jess Hawkins
Putnam Genz thrives in newly-created role
College of Education alumna Theresa Putnam Genz (09’, MA) has won the 2019 Iowa School Counselor Association Multi-Level School Counselor of the Year Award.
The award honors outstanding professional school counselors in Iowa. Putnam Genz was nominated for the award by David Ford, postsecondary readiness lead at the Mississippi Bend Area Education Agency. Once nominated, the application process included submitting reference letters, writing a series of essays, and analyzing data from previous years as a school counselor.
Originally from Letts, Iowa, Putnam Genz works as a College and Career Counselor at three different schools: Louisa-Muscatine High School in Letts, Columbus Community High School in Columbus Junction, and Muscatine Community College in Muscatine.
This position was created three years ago to address the diverse needs of Louisa-Muscatine high school and Columbus Community high school students in the Columbus Community School District to prepare for life after high school, especially as many of them are first-generation college students. Broadly, the position supports students in creating post-high school plans while also assisting with any mental health issues that could arise.
“It would take a special kind of person to become a member of two buildings, and to be trusted by their students, parents, and staff,” says Chris Wulf, High School Guidance Counselor of Columbus Community School District.
“I have always known Theresa to be student centered and willing to advocate for her kids in any environment….I knew that she would take the position and make it a calling,” he says.
Putnam Genz educates students and parents about the options that are available for them through post-secondary education. She works closely with other counselors to ensure that every graduating senior has a post-secondary plan and the connections needed to make a change if necessary. She also works with all 7-12 grade students on their college planning process and teaches a “Strategies for College Success” class for high school seniors. She also helps students to complete resumes and scholarship applications, prepare for interviews, and understand their next steps. She is also in regular contact with current and former students to provide guidance in any areas that they need.
“Ms. Putnam Genz has invested the time, shows the desire, and has the talent to make solid connections with the students, which has created the level of trust needed to effectively assist in student postsecondary planning,” says Mike Van-Sickle, superintendent of the Louisa Muscatine Community School District.
Her success in this position has led to Muscatine Community College duplicating it in two other high schools to hopefully mirror her success. She has also been asked to share her program with other districts so that it can be replicated, especially in rural schools to help with the lack of access to targeted postsecondary planning. She was also asked to share details of her program at the National Postsecondary Strategy Institute in September.
“My favorite part of the job is getting to really know my students. They teach me so much on a daily basis, and it is amazing to watch them change over time,” says Putnam Genz. “Whether it is from seventh grade to 12th grade, or just from Fall semester to Spring, it is great to help them find that magic part of themselves and run with it.”
Putnam Genz graduated from the University of Iowa in 2009 with a Master of Arts in School Counseling. While earning her master’s degree, Putnam Genz was employed part-time as a school counselor at Louisa-Muscatine High School.
“I was encouraged to apply for a position at LMHS by my school counseling professors at Iowa,” says Putnam Genz. “I was not sure that I was ready, but they assured me that after watching me in class, that I would be.”
Putnam Genz valued the opportunity to put what she was learning at the College of Education into real-world scenarios.
“I gained so much information from classes that was useful every day with my students and staff. Each of my professors was an incredible teacher and person,” she says. “They cared, not just about my learning, but my leadership, and who I was and could be as a person. Each of them helped me to find and improve upon my strengths and weaknesses so I could be the best counselor possible.”
Putnam Genz says she will be forever grateful for the strong foundation and support she received from the UI College of Education’s School Counseling Program that has propelled her success in her career.
“The University of Iowa saw who I could be and helped me make my map to get there. The education, opportunities, and support given were incredible,” Putnam Genz says. “ I have loved my time as a school counselor and have followed the successes of my counseling cohort since graduation. We are all making a difference each day. There is nothing better."