Conversations with Leaders: Erica Wade
People can get advice anywhere, but the help that hits home often comes from someone who has been in the same situation. At Governors State University, some of the best guidance comes from Erica Wade.
“I’ve had clients say, ‘How do you know?’ And I say, ‘I’ve been in your shoes.’ I remember being in their situation, which has helped me be more receptive and compassionate, and to provide nonjudgmental space for them to heal.”
Wade, named Director of the Counseling and Wellness Center in 2018, brings to Governors State a long list of academic degrees and a wealth of professional experience. She also has a life story full of challenges that helps her connect with the students she’s here to serve.
Given her difficult path, Wade said she’s grateful for her position in life. “I should not be where I am.”
Her desire to help others started young. “I’ve always been a counselor at heart. Even in middle school, I helped support friends,” she said. She was also task-oriented and organized. Talking with a guidance counselor in high school gave her an idea of the kind of job she wanted—the counselor’s.
“I said, ‘I want to do what you do,’ ” Wade recalled, an idea that led her on the path to counseling administration, which involves managing a team of therapists, programs and paperwork that ranges from budgets to documenting ethical compliance.
Wade’s first step was earning her associate degree in Psychology at College of DuPage, a partner with the Governors State’s Dual Degree Program. She also became a teenage mother. When she headed to Northern Illinois University (NIU) to continue her studies, she did not succeed.
“I was living off campus with a child and I was overwhelmed,” she said. “I didn’t get the resources I needed. I felt like a number. And I wanted to change that cycle for others.”
After a brief stint working, Wade prevailed at a much smaller college, earning her bachelor’s degree, then on to Benedictine University, where she earned her master’s degree in Clinical Psychology. With her eye on a doctorate, she headed back to NIU. This time, she graduated as planned. “I was amazed. I did it! It was a real milestone for me,” Wade said with her ever-present smile.
Her career experience has ranged from serving as an on-call crisis social worker at a hospital to providing on-call crisis services at the DeKalb County Jail. Wade also worked in private practice counseling with those wrestling with substance abuse.
She gained plenty of experience working for NIU’s counseling department, particularly with under aged student drinkers or those caught using drugs. “I helped maintain the university’s work with students violating the code of conduct, including returning students,” Wade said. “It was totally different working with them compared to working with students suffering from anxiety and depression, who wanted support.”
Her work at NIU helped prepare her for Governors State in other ways. “It provided the foundation for serving on committees where I worked on policies and procedures, on the website, and on diversity committees,” she said. These are handy skills essential to managing a staff of 10 that includes student interns who are learning to be therapists.
At Governors State, the number of students seeking help from the counseling center is on the rise, evidence that the Counseling and Wellness Center is providing needed services, Wade said. She wants to serve even more, but limited resources makes it challenging.
“We need more staff who can reach students at different times of day, since our students have such different schedules. We need to do more outreach, since there’s still a stigma about seeking help. And we need online tools to help students manage their stress,” she said.
What Wade loves about Governors State is its diverse student population, something she hasn’t seen on other college campuses. “I’ve never been part of such a diverse group of students,” she said. “There are people from other countries, people who speak different languages, some who have just come from high school, some returning students who are grandparents. This is such a great opportunity for me because I don’t see this diversity at other universities.”
She also admires GSU students for their tenacity in the face of serious challenges. “Some of them come from hard times and have to overcome a lot of obstacles, which takes a real leap,” Wade said. “Just being able to be part of it — that’s why I’m here.”