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12/2/2013 4:33:00 AM
Day for college counselor starts on two wheels
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Sharon Ivey, college counselor at St. Mary's Academy is a daily bicycle commuter.
Catholic Sentinel photo by Ed Langlois
Sharon Ivey, college counselor at St. Mary's Academy is a daily bicycle commuter.
Ed Langlois
Of the Catholic Sentinel

Not everyone who teaches at a Catholic school is Catholic. Yet the faith life tends to mean a lot to such staff. That's the case for Sharon Ivey, college admission counselor at St. Mary's Academy in Portland for the past decade.

"I appreciate working in a school that focuses on the spiritual growth of students in addition to their academic and social development," says Ivey, whose two oldest daughters attended the downtown school for girls. "We truly focus on the whole person. Every year I am reminded of this as I begin working with students in their junior year and I ask them what they like about St. Mary’s. The strong, caring community that allows you to be ‘who you are’ is a common theme."

Ivey enters "who am I" territory often when helping students choose a college.  
She and other counselors try to help each student define what she’s looking for. That often needs to start with self-reflection.

"We emphasize that their college search is unique to them and may look very different from their best friend’s, their locker partner’s or their neighbor’s," Ivey says.
Students often need help tracking details, developing financial literacy so they can understand options for financing.

Ivey says students should have a "balanced" list of colleges. That means the student should be happy attending any one of them and should have at least one that is attainable and affordable. Ivey suggests applying to no more than five to eight.  
Two trends make college counseling hard: the high cost of college and the pressure on students from themselves and their parents. She tries to avert both snares by getting to the basic questions.  

"My hope is that each student heads off for a college experience where she will thrive both socially and academically," Ivey says. "I know that when they leave St. Mary’s they will have the skills to be successful, but there are a range of factors (teaching philosophy, opportunities offered, debt load, access to academic support, career services) that vary from college to college that will impact their launch into adulthood. Long term, I hope our students will find their place in the world that allows them to be content and give back to the communities where they live."

Ivey's place in the world is often in a bike lane. For the past seven years, she has cycled from Northeast Portland daily, cruising down Tillamook Street, over the Steel Bridge and down the waterfront walkway. She likes the idea that her commute reduces her carbon footprint.

She has not had any close calls while commuting, but was "doored" a couple years ago while running errands. Getting "doored" happens when a motorist opens a door into the path of an oncoming cyclist.   

"I ride very conservatively and I assume drivers can’t see me, but after being doored I’ve realized that is one kind of accident that is hard to anticipate," Ivey says.   

Despite the possibility of a crash, cycle commuting brings Ivey joy.

"Riding my bike gives me energy to start the day," she says. "It also provides an opportunity to decompress at the end of a busy one."

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