By Grace Apostol
The 2023-2024 school year at Washington College began by welcoming new faculty and staff members to the community at the College. Starting in the spring of 2023, new faces began at WC, supporting the institution onwards.
One new staff member includes clinical counselor Kat Ralfs ‘17 who started March 27, 2023, where she provides “clinical services” for the needs of mental health to students.
From Fairlee, Md., Ralfs graduated from WC 2017 with a Bachelors of Arts in psychology, specializing in clinical and counseling. She then went on to receive a Masters of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Walden University in 2021.
Before coming to the College, Ralfs worked at LifeStance Health in Arnold, Md. where, according to her, she worked in “clinical counseling with a wide age range from young children to older adults via individual counseling services.”
She chose to pursue this career field due to her interest being raised in high school.
“There was a natural pull towards this field, and I chose to listen to my instincts,” Ralfs said. “I have always considered myself to be a helper and knew that would be an important aspect in my career choice. I found helping others to be very fulfilling.”
According to new staff member of Disabilities Services Alex Yates said that he knew he enjoyed helping people.
“I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up,” he said. “I knew I liked helping people and ending up in education was the best thing for me. I like that I can focus now on advocating for students and helping them get what they need to be successful.”
Yates, who started as the new Disability Access Specialist on Aug. 14, 2023, reviews students’ accommodations requests and works to find what supports each student’s needs, as well as making sure that WC is compliant the Americans with Disabilities Act.
After graduating from Pennsylvania State University with a Bachelors in Secondary Education in 2011, Yates went on to receive a Masters in Urban Education Policy from Brown University in 2022.
Before coming to WC, he worked as a middle school special education teacher for seven years and as a grant director for Young Men’s Christian Association hosting a free after school program.
Now landed at the College, Yates holds aspirations coming into this position.
“I just hope to be part of change at the college in a good way,” Yates said. “The College is working hard to make sure students feel included and enjoy their experience here.”
The Starr Center for the Study of the American Experience gained a new staff member as well. Dr. Victoria Barnett-Woods started her role as Associate Director of the Starr Center for Experiential Learning and Programming in June 2023. Dr. Barnett-Woods’ job is to create initiatives for the WC community.
“A great thing about what I do is ‘experiential learning,’ which aims to step outside of the traditional reading-lecture-exam experience we find in the classroom and ‘learn by doing,’ she said. “For example, on Sept. 8, I ran a papermaking workshop which also explored eighteenth-century print history.”
Growing up all around due to her father being in the military, Dr. Barnett-Woods was born in Germany and deemed her hometown to be in Woodland Hills, Calif.
She received her Bachelors of Art from California State University Northridge and went on to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Philippines
“I wasn’t ready to start a career right out [of] College, but didn’t know what I wanted to do,” she said. “All I knew was that I wanted to travel and do good. The Peace Corps gave me that opportunity. It is from that experience—27 months living in a rural town in the province of Nueva Ecija—that carved the path for the rest of my life. It was then I knew I was going to be an educator.”
Following the Peace Corps, Dr. Barnett-Woods earned her Masters of Arts in English at Marquette University and then her Doctorate at George Washington University.
Working at Loyola University starting in 2018 as a professor, Dr. Barnett-Woods enjoyed it, however she did not feel it was a great fit for her there.
“I was able to teach what I wanted and had a blast with the students.” she said. “…But the job was a contingent one, meaning that it wasn’t a guaranteed job the way that tenured professors have job security. For this reason, I left this year to take up the position at WC.”
At the College, Dr. Barnett-Woods hopes to implement more into the program like “‘learning by doing’.”
“I’m hoping that our programming excites all WC students to try new things, learn about the history of the area, and have fun while doing it,” she said.
Like Dr. Barnett-Woods, Ralfs also has hopes and advice for the community.
“At this point in the lives of our students, there are so many things that feel unknown and maybe a bit chaotic,” Ralfs said. “My piece of advice is to look at this season of life as a workshop phase. Be open to all the opportunities that come your way, don’t sweat the small stuff, and try to embrace failures as much as successes. It all helps you discover what’s important to you and helps you learn what kind of person you want to be.”