Everyone has a story. Stories are more than simply entertainment or a recounting of events. Stories encapsulate the human experience, while demonstrating values, growth, and how experiences have shaped a person. When we work with students, we empower them to authentically and honestly reflect on their stories to help create a meaningful lifelong journey. We are more than counselors, advisors, or consultants. We are people and we have our own stories. If we expect students to share their journeys, then it is only fair that we share ours.

Our Stories

Sawyer Earwood

I'm a first-generation college student originally from Alabama. As a child, money was scarce, but fortunately, I was single-handedly raised by the strongest and kindest woman I've ever known. My mother helped to cultivate my worldview, where a hearty laugh, supportive shoulder, and strong stance against injustice was more important than any amount of money.

My journey was not always easy, but I found solace and support through my school community, mentors, and friends. I went to high school at Bayside Academy in Daphne, AL and my college counselor, Mary Ann Willis, suggested I read the Colleges That Change Lives book. After reading, I was enamored by the idea of small liberal arts schools. I stumbled through my college search quite a bit, but landed on a small list of schools: Vanderbilt, College of Charleston, Reed College, Hendrix College, Rhodes College, and Sewanee. I eventually chose Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, and majored in International Studies-History with a focus in East Asia. I served on the school’s Honor Council, traveled abroad twice (Shanghai & Nanjing, China), and made some lifelong friends.

After graduating, I worked several jobs but was keenly aware of an emptiness that no job could fill. I realized that being in a school community was where I had always felt empowered and supported. I began working at Hendrix College to reclaim that feeling and guide students to find their own home away from home. During my four years at Hendrix, I oversaw international student recruitment, worked with DACA students, became a first-gen mentor, was involved in eSports recruitment, and recruited students from over 25 states. While I enjoyed a great many things in my job, it was working with students and families that made my work fulfilling. I became an independent college counselor to continue working with students and families, advocate for them, and be beholden to only their best interests. 

​I am a humanist who has found purpose through empowering others on journeys of self-discovery and growth. The journey can be messy, challenging, and often filled with uncertainty, but never lacking in teachable moments. My work with students is not meant to be transactional, it is meant to be transformational. My goal is to build authentic and meaningful relationships with students, to serve as a mentor, and empower them to grow and transform as academics, professionals, and people who strive to make the future a better place.

 

I find myself drawn to students who mirror my story: first-generation, lower socio-economic levels, unstable homes, interest in the liberal arts, eSports athletes, and a passion for wanting to do more even if they're lacking an obvious path forward.

Jessica Chermak

I grew up in the suburbs of San Diego, in a single-parent household. My mother demonstrated and encouraged independence, tenacity, and self-reliance. When I set out on my own college search journey, I was empowered to pursue all avenues of interest, but didn’t exactly have much guidance in my decision-making. I fell head over heels for Washington University in St Louis after visiting a friend and cousin during my senior year, and submitted an Early Decision application (Spoiler Alert: I was deferred to the Regular Decision pool and subsequently rejected). 

 

I wound up at Chapman University, and quickly realized the school was not a great fit for me. It certainly didn’t help that I was a Biology major (pre-med), and suddenly didn’t enjoy science. I felt pretty trapped during my first semester, and applied to transfer. While my transfer applications were being reviewed, a friend sat me down to encourage me to change majors. In my head, I had to pick something else instead of Biology, but in reality, the question was really Biology or Not-Biology, and it was suddenly a much easier question to answer. I ultimately decided to pursue a degree in Psychology, and immediately sought out opportunities as a research assistant in a cognitive science lab on campus, dove deeper into courses in the honors program, took a leadership role on the Chancellor’s Student Advisory Board, and became a founding member of the Honors Organizational Board of Students . 

After deciding to graduate from Chapman a year early, I started applying to graduate school. I was methodical this time around, though, because I felt I had a better sense of what else I was looking for in a school and a program. Against all advice, I turned down my acceptance to the University of Pennsylvania, and elected to attend the University of Denver. I wanted to be in Colorado, and I wasn’t a huge fan of Philadelphia. But most importantly, I wanted a program that would provide me with hands-on experience in the field. In my Forensic Psychology program, I participated in two externships each year, wherein I acquired clinical hours to ultimately pursue my LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) credential. I realized fairly early on in the program that I was most fulfilled when coaching clients who were working through how to engage in making major life decisions. Thanks to the SMART Scholarship, I had funding for tuition, books, health insurance, and a sizable living stipend. It also required me to sign on as an Operations Research Analyst for the Army at White Sands Missile Range, NM for two years following my degree completion. 

 

Throughout my graduate education and stint with the Army, I found myself continually in the position of providing career and college counseling support to friends and colleagues. It came as no surprise that all the clinical work I had completed (which focused primarily on mindfulness-based approaches to addressing stress and anxiety, and building resiliency) greatly informed my counseling work. So I began exploring ways in which I could integrate into the field of college counseling in a more official capacity. After fulfilling my commitment in New Mexico, I began a position as a research faculty member at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Institute of Behavioral Science. In my free time, I established my first college counseling business, CollegEase Consulting and volunteered on CU Boulder's scholarship review committee. Working full time afforded me little time to grow the practice, so after four years at the university, I decided to focus on CollegEase full-time. This gave me a lot more flexibility in engaging with the communities I felt needed the most assistance when it came to understanding college opportunities. 

 

One of my primary motives in college counseling is helping students discover schools, programs, and opportunities that are a good fit for them academically, socially, and financially. The most exciting part about the process with every student is watching how much they grow as they journey through the college search and application process, particularly in their essay development. By the end of the entire process, my students have a thoroughly developed and authentic representation of who they are, their values and aspirations, solid executive functioning skills, and a strong sense of autonomy, agency, and purpose.