Making a Difference in Behavioral Health

Counseling and Psychology program graduate Tiffany Kim discovers her true calling in social work

Growing up in a first-generation, low-income immigrant family, Sooeun (Tiffany) Kim faced firsthand struggles and challenges due to social inequality. Her family had had difficulty with acculturation as well as worry over making ends meet, relying on the social welfare benefits they were able to get. Those experiences shed light on the inequality that exists and motivated her to pursue a career involving social justice and helping others.

For a long time, Tiffany firmly believed her career path would lead to her becoming a doctor. But as an undergraduate at the University of California, San Diego, majoring in physiology and neuroscience, Tiffany felt the first trickle of doubt that premedical was not the path for her—but she wasn’t exactly sure what was. So she decided to take advantage of an internship opportunity while continuing her undergraduate degree to explore where her passion could lead.

“With my biological sciences background, I had the opportunity to intern at the Scripps Research Institute in the Dorris Neuroscience Center,” recalls Tiffany. “The work being done there was incredible, but at the same time it was the ‘aha’ moment: I really acknowledged that this particular field was not for me. But I knew I had a passion for helping others, so I declared a minor in health care and social issues. In doing so, I began to find a renewed sense of social justice that I would eventually achieve through social work.” 

After graduation, Tiffany had another opportunity to intern, this time at San Francisco City Impact Health and Wellness Center, a medical nonprofit where she worked with the city’s vulnerable homeless population. “This experience solidified my desire to change careers and enter the social-services field,” she says.

So for the past four years, Tiffany had been working as the operations and program manager at North Beach Citizens, a nonprofit that also addresses the needs of San Francisco’s homeless and low-income population. Here, she oversaw client service programs, provided intensive case-management services, managed the daily office operations and administrative duties, and created marketing materials.

Tiffany was ready to take the next step in advancing her social-services career: attending graduate school.

Why Our Post-Bacc Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions

“Before I could go back to school, I had two questions for myself,” she explains. “First, academically, is this field something I would like to learn about in more depth? And, second, do I have the grade point average and letters of recommendation that would make me a competitive applicant to graduate schools? I began considering additional education before pursuing graduate school, and this led me to UC Berkeley Extension.

“As someone working a full-time job—and already spending almost three hours a day commuting—I needed a flexible learning opportunity,” Tiffany continues. “UC Berkeley Extension offered programs I could complete at my own pace, which included a unique selection of on-campus and online courses.”

She enthuses, “The Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions couldn’t have been a better fit. Not only were the classes reflective of material I would most likely learn in graduate school, but also the concepts could be used in my everyday life. The courses taught me how to see people in the context of their environment and personal experiences and to understand others better. Furthermore, this program could also provide support with my graduate school applications, including a future composite letter of recommendation.”  

How Our Instructors Make a Difference

“The two instructors who have had the most influence on my career are Christina Villarreal, Ph.D., and Richard Sprott, Ph.D.,” says Tiffany.

“Christina was my instructor for two on-campus courses: Abnormal Psychology and Psychology of Personality. As someone who is a former therapist and is now a life coach, Christina shared her experiences in the field and gave us a very realistic picture of what it meant to be a therapist and the process of getting there,” she explains.

“Dr. Richard Sprott was my instructor for the online course Introduction to Developmental Psychology. Through his course’s topics, case studies and assignments, he solidified my desire to pursue social work. I found myself really enjoying Dr. Sprott’s class; I could really see myself going to graduate school to learn social work in more depth.”  

Tiffany also completed Research Methods in Psychology online. “I had never taken an online course before these, and I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging both my classes were,” she says. “Each week, we learned a new topic, discussed case studies and applied what we were learning to our lives. We looked at how biological factors, attachment style and personality all affect our psychological development. I gained tools that have made me more conscious about how I engage and approach people. And although I was not in a physical class, it sure felt like I was.”

“The concepts and lessons learned from this post-baccalaureate program will continue to be a valuable asset in my future endeavors.”

Accepted Into Graduate School

The Post-Baccalaureate Program for Counseling and Psychology Professions builds on your life experiences and previous education in order to prepare you for graduate school.

For example, Tiffany’s role at North Beach Citizens required her to provide counseling, intensive case management services and suicide assessments. In addition to these skills, she also had gained hands-on counseling experience while briefly volunteering at the Contra Costa Crisis Center.

“I received crisis-line training on how to provide emotional support for individuals who are grieving, suicidal, homeless or mentally ill,” says Tiffany. “Through these direct practice experiences, I gained my own unique skills in counseling and psychology. I am eager to see how this community learning experience differs from the experience in a higher-education setting and how it will build on it.”   

Once Tiffany decided that attending graduate school was the right decision for her, her next step was to tackle the application process. Our program proved helpful in getting her into the school of her choice.

“Extension’s courses, instructors and administrative staff provided me valuable information on what schools were looking for,” enthuses Tiffany. “Program director Stan Weisner wrote a composite letter of recommendation for me and provided me with a lot of tips on how I could be a stronger applicant. The courses, whether they were on campus or online, really made me do a lot of critical thinking and analysis. I did extremely well in the courses, too, which illustrated that I was prepared for the academic rigors of graduate school.

“But the letters of recommendation—the composite and a separate one from Dr. Sprott—were what truly sealed the deal. Being able to establish a relationship with my professors and having one of them write a letter of recommendation that could speak to my academic abilities was probably the biggest strength in my applications,” Tiffany adds.

“I had spent an intense holiday season compiling my statements and materials, and had submitted a total of three graduate school applications. I was accepted into all three programs, and this fall I began attending the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration.”

And what about her plans after graduate school?

“After graduate school, I plan to work in the health care sector,” Tiffany asserts. “Although my dream of becoming a doctor never came to fruition, I’ve still found myself coming full circle. As someone who was providing direct services for several years, I had become very frustrated with how policy had directly impacted my work as a professional. So, in addition to the master’s program, I am enrolled in the university’s Graduate Program in Health Administration and Policy, which is a program of study that provides interdisciplinary training. I want to be in a position where I can work on policy reform and develop more efficient programs. I’m going to reduce health care disparities, eliminate racial and gender bias, and improve quality of care. That is my career goal.”

Like Tiffany, you are engaged, not afraid to ask questions. You also can make the most of your experience here at Extension and get ahead. Will you take the next step in advancing your career?