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Guiding Students to Success

For Northern Arizona University alumnus Katherine (“Kat”) Pastor, the acclaim she's received during her career has its roots in the service and mentorship ideals she learned as an undergraduate. Pastor has put those ideals to good use as a guidance counselor and counseling department chair for Flagstaff High School, where she does for young students today exactly what university mentors did for her. "I still appreciate how faculty really cared and their willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty at both the undergraduate and graduate levels," she says. "They knew your name and would spend time outside of class to talk with you. It was like all faculty were in a partnership to help you."

A personal approach

 

Pastor has taken those lessons and applied them to her own personal approach to mentorship. "Ms. Pastor knows everyone's name," says Bridget Johnson, a counselor's aide at Flagstaff High School. "She knows each of their stories, and she remembers exactly what everyone needs. You can talk to her like a friend, and you know she'll always be there."

Pastor’s impact extends beyond her students. She sits on numerous boards, and chairs most of them. Her involvement spans a diverse array of organizations, including Flagstaff's Master Chorale, the Arizona High School College Relations Counsel, the YMCA board for the Northern Arizona Resource College Center, the Arizona School Counselors Association, and her family's hiking team in Flagstaff's annual American Cancer Society Climb to Conquer Cancer.

Pastor never seems to stop moving. "I get involved because there are so many causes that need help. It's hard to say no. Besides, it's just fun."

As a student and employee at the university, Pastor says that she "didn't do anything spectacular." The evidence, however, suggests otherwise. While working on her bachelor's in psychology and athletic coaching, her master's in education and student affairs, and her second master's in school counseling, she fondly remembers volunteering in psychology research labs, participating in national junior weightlifting competitions, coaching high school varsity track and field and volleyball teams, mentoring Northern Arizona University student athletes, and singing with the Master Chorale.

More impressively, Pastor accomplished all that while she fought and conquered thyroid cancer. Through it all, she says, the many mentoring relationships she developed with professors helped her to persevere and succeed.

Connecting with her students

 

Now, Pastor advises students to take advantages of the many opportunities available to them. "I definitely tell students to study abroad, to do internships, and to find student employment or work study," she says. "They need to learn what it is really like in the world of work related to their field. I tell them not to be afraid to stay at NAU; but don't be afraid to go away either, because you can always come back."

Most importantly, Pastor talks to them on their terms, not hers. “In my mind, it is all so easy—admissions applications, financial aid, and scholarships," she says. "But I have to see it from their viewpoint, and they can flip out with anxiety, so I tell them the application process is like trying on a pair of pants: you're not committed to it, but you don't know if it's right for you until you try it on.'"