From Peer Listener to Case Worker

July 18, 2018
Erin Ulrich ’18
Charis Stanek standing at commencement, holding her graduation cap
Charis Stanek '18 at Commencement Photo credit: Courtesy of Charis Stanek

Charis Stanek’s passion for social psychology led her from a job at Oberlin’s Peer Support Center to her first postgrad gig.


When Charis Stanek ’18 started her first year at Oberlin, she thought she wanted to study pre-law. It wasn’t until she took a course called Social Conflict that Stanek turned her sociology minor into a major. Stanek soon became involved with the Peer Support Center at Oberlin, which gave her the insight and experience she needed to turn her passion for active listening from a personal interest into her first postgrad gig. Stanek now works at Indian Oaks Academy, a residential mental health treatment center for young people just south of Chicago.

While Stanek hopes to pursue a graduate degree in either social work or clinical psychology in the future, her time at Indian Oaks has already solidified her career aspirations in the field of mental health support work. As a psychology and sociology double major, the courses Charis took at Oberlin nurtured her passion for peer support work, but it was the work outside of the classroom that impacted her the most. An experienced leader at the Peer Support Center, the center gave Stanek the active listening, organizational, and leadership skills she needed to excel after Oberlin.

At Oberlin’s Peer Support Center, Stanek served as a peer listener, student coordinator, and cofacilitator for the college’s first Introduction to Peer Helping Skills class.

“The most rewarding part of this job is knowing that I am making a difference in the life of the youth that we serve,” says Stanek. “By having a job that matches my skills, I not only have more fun, but I also feel useful knowing that I am contributing something greater to my community.”

But, Stanek says, working as a mental health professional is a labor of love. “Trying to make a difference in a field that has limited funding and is emotionally taxing” is difficult. But the rewards of her job outweigh the day-to-day challenges. The opportunity to teach classes for the youth at the center and the one-on-one sessions with her clients are just some of the most fulfilling parts of her work.

Stanek says she knew by her senior year that she was meant to pursue mental health support work. Her enrollment in Peer Helping Skills 1 and 2, taught by Associate Dean Matthew Hayden, blossomed into an impact extending far beyond Oberlin.

“We can do the right thing day in and day out without seeing results, but I have to keep reminding myself that all of the hard work is worth it. These kids have the opportunity to feel cared for and to change the trajectory of their lives.”

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