On the Road with Theresa

For most of us, having to work out of three different offices located easily 25 miles apart, would drive us crazy.

Theresa Putnam-Genz wins statewide awards for it. Putnam-Genz’s typical week includes two days working in the Columbus Community School District in Columbus Junction, another pair of days with the Louisa-Muscatine Community School District, and finishing up with her Fridays at Muscatine Community College (MCC).

It’s all part of her job as a College and Career Counselor for the college. A job she was recently recognized for as the 2019 Iowa Multi-Level School Counselor of the Year, awarded by the Iowa School Counselor Association.

“Teaching students about college and career options, driving them to scholarship opportunities, talking to parents in the evenings, communicating with graduates and much more is what Ms. Putnam-Genz does (in her) new and innovative counseling program,” said Louisa-Muscatine Community School District Superintendent Mike Van Sickle.

One of the unique aspects of her job, and the reason she splits time between three different offices, is funding for her position is shared equally by the two school districts and the college. She works for MCC but spends the majority of her time at the schools, helping students discover what’s possible for them after high school.

“The program really serves as an example for the rest of the state and it’s because of Theresa that it all works,” said MCC President Naomi DeWinter. “We are so proud of her.”

Putnam-Genz works hand-in-hand, sometimes literally, with students, guiding them to see the possibilities past high school. Together, they start by exploring careers that interest them and then she helps them understand the training they will need. From there she lays out the next steps they need to take to get those careers. She is really helping put them on the path to a successful life.

“Mrs. Putnam-Genz is the most passionate counselor I have ever encountered and she has been very helpful to multiple students,” said one of her former students, Jennifer Fernandez-Miranda. “I know this because of the community she helped create at Muscatine and the connections she still has with Columbus students.”

“She pushes us to be the best versions of ourselves,” Fernandez-Miranda said. “She encourages students to take opportunities that we may not have had the guts to take on our own. She is there to comfort us during our difficult times and to celebrate with us during the best of times.”

Her work is especially important because so many of the students she encounters are “first-generation.” They are in families where no one has continued their education past high school, so they are the first generation to go onto college or career training.

Understanding the process of enrolling, applying for financial aid, choosing classes and everything else connected with going to college is unknown to them. Having Putnam-Genz on their side makes the process all that much easier to navigate.

Putnam-Genz didn’t set out to become a high school counselor when she first entered college herself, but soon found her passion.

“I started out to be an orthodontist but while in college became interested in becoming an academic advisor,” she said. “I talked to some of my academic advisors and found out they had all started as high school counselors.”

From that, she volunteered to help at Louisa-Muscatine and fell in love with the school, and with counseling. And, as the adage goes, the rest is history. She’s never looked back and is still doing the job she loves, where she loves to be.

It’s just that now her love is spread between three different places.

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