Pair of Alumnae Make Their Mark as San Diego County Counselors of the Year

January 14, 2022
Christine Araki and Nicole Roman

Christine Araki (’93 Community-Based Block) works on the cutting edge of education in the Sweetwater Union High School District’s first all-virtual school. Nicole Roman (’10 school counseling) is leading data-driven systems change at Poway middle schools to prevent at-risk students from falling through the cracks. 

The pair of San Diego State University alumnae recently were named two of three recipients of the 2022 San Diego County Counselor of the Year award. Both expressed surprise and satisfaction with the honor, presented by the San Diego County Office of Education for the past three years. 

“As counselors, we don't do a lot of acknowledging ourselves — we're usually the cheerleaders in the back,” Araki said. “So this is something that's very rewarding. I feel proud to represent the counselors in my district.” 

Added Roman: “Especially over the last two years, with the pandemic, counselors have been amazing across the board. So it's very humbling.” 

Here is a closer look at each award recipient:

Nicole Roman 

A counselor at North County schools since 2010, Roman (previously Nicole Pablo) is now at Poway’s Twin Peaks Middle School and serves as the co-lead for all counselors in the Poway Unified School District. A first-generation college student who was raised by immigrant parents in National City and San Marcos, she is inspired to help students feel connected to their school and discover opportunities.

Roman’s passion is for intervention: proactively identifying students who are not achieving well and offering them additional support. In her district, she’s implemented a data-driven approach that harkens back to her SDSU training. 

“The school counseling program at SDSU really stands out for the way they prepared us using a systems lens,” Roman said. “The program helped me learn to gather and analyze data to see where the achievement gaps are. 

“I don't want kids missing out on support by happenstance. We've been able to create more systems across the board so it's equitable and no students are left behind.” 

While data are her passion, there’s also a bit of poetry in Roman winning the 2022 top counselor award. One of the 2021 recipients — SDSU alumna Cherryl Baker (’97, ’98) — had been her counselor at San Marcos High School and helped inspire her to pursue the profession. 

Roman was also mentored in SDSU’s school counseling master’s program by Trish Hatch, now a professor emeritus. Hatch was also honored by the San Diego County Office of Education with its 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award for her work with school counselors. 

“I had wonderful mentors at SDSU,” said Roman, who has served as a practicum supervisor and lecturer in SDSU’s Department of Counseling and School Psychology. 

"They comfortably and supportively pushed us past our limits and challenged us. I feel very strongly about the SDSU School Counseling program." 

Christine Araki 

Araki joined Launch Virtual Academy in July 2021 after 16 years at Chula Vista High. Launch embarked last year with 250 students, and enrollment has since swelled to more than 700.

"I saw it as an exciting opportunity for a change, but also a needed change in the future of education — not just in the pandemic,” Araki said. “It really is the future of education for students to have a choice of what type of learning they want.” 

As counselor, she helps provide college and career resources and other support to students in a fittingly flexible fashion — holding appointments via online platforms, over the phone or in person at a district site. 

A Chula Vista native who is deeply rooted in her community, Araki said her most satisfying experiences have been helping support young people struggling in their daily lives. She has helped students find safe places to live, communicate better with their parents and find fulfilling jobs after graduation. Key to her approach is developing close relationships with her students: understanding their strengths, identifying their potential, seeing their vulnerability and helping them find the courage to pursue their dreams 

“I always say that a student is more than a transcript, they're more than their grades,” she said. “When you can show that you care and you can build that trust with them, the possibilities can be endless for what you can do.” 

Araki earned her bachelor’s in psychology from SDSU and participated in the Community-Based Block (CBB) multicultural community counseling program as a graduate student. She said her CBB training provided the tools she needed to work with students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. 

“Succeeding as a school counselor really comes down to being able to relate and work with students who are different from you and have gone through different things,” she said. “The CBB program really impacted me in that sense.” 

This story was originally posted on SDSU NewsCenter.

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