By his own account, Beau Menchaca (M.A. ’02) grew up a bit of a gypsy, bouncing back and forth between Texas and Mexico. By middle school, his family settled in Mexico, where he completed high school and college. Like so many before him, Menchaca struggled to find his path during his formative years.
“In Mexico, there was no such thing as a school counselor. We had to figure things out on our own,” he said.
After moving to the United States as an adult, Menchaca worked in a clerical position at Carr Intermediate School in Santa Ana. There, he first saw school counselors in action.
“They had somebody for the students to talk to, for the parents to talk to, to help them through the process,” he says. “I thought, that’s something I’d love to do.”
This is a common experience among professional school counselors, says Kelly Kennedy, Ph.D., associate professor and director of the School Counseling and School Psychology graduate programs at Chapman University’s Attallah College of Educational Studies.
“People become school counselors for two reasons: They had a counselor in school they loved, who supported and mentored them, or like Beau they had no guidance at all,” she says. “Schools counselors are a passionate bunch who want to help students thrive. They want to model a fantastic mentor or be a mentor in a way that no one was for them.”
Now that Menchaca is an award-winning school counselor at Century High School in Santa Ana, it’s hard to overstate his impact. From 2013-18, when Menchaca was higher-education coordinator, the number of Century High students completing the federal Free Application for Federal Student Aid submission jumped by 78%. In addition, Menchaca raised nearly $100,000 in grants for scholarships and support for higher-ed programs, and he organized Century’s first-ever College Signing Day.
Most impressive of all, on Menchaca’s watch the proportion of Century students attending college skyrocketed from 21% to a whopping 92%.
What’s the secret of his success?
“It didn’t happen overnight,” Menchaca said simply. “It’s coming up with a plan and building upon it every year.”