Share Your Story
Brian Lazzaro (BS'98)
This is a short story of my path to becoming a school psychologist. When I came to the University of Illinois I was undeclared and took general education courses thinking there was a possibility that I may end up studying to be an engineer. That is what my father wanted me to be, after all, and he was paying my tuition. However, my initial thoughts couldn’t have been more wrong.
After I took Calculus and Chemistry I realized that, although I appreciated the determination of my professors, this was not the route for me. I took Psychology 101, fell in love, and the rest was history. My professor was young and dynamic in the classroom and all of the other psychology professors that I took classes from at U of I were nothing short of leaders in their respective field. I was sold. While at the U of I library one night I happened to be flipping through a job reference book with all of the different kinds of psychologists listed. This is the first time I saw “educational psychology” and “school psychologist” in print. I thought to myself, wow, I could combine two of my newest passions: education and psychology. This was it. By my senior year I found out there was a student group (Psi Chi) comprised of students looking towards careers in psychology and this is where I met others who were also interested in school psychology.
I proudly graduated U of I with my psych degree and applied for a job at a mental health agency that wanted me to mingle with students in the cafeteria of a local high school. My job was to meet students and, in general, be an advocate and liaison for them so that they would have a contact to access services at the local mental health agency. It was an interesting and proactive position but for very low pay ($22,000 in 1998). So, after the job offer, I decided that I really had no choice and that I needed to go back to school to start working on a more specific degree in psychology. I decided to look more into school psychology and found a program at Loyola University Chicago. Loyola is such a well-known university that I felt I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to receive a fine graduate education. I was not disappointed. I received my M.Ed. degree in School Psychology and started working for a high school district in suburban Chicago.
My school district offered tuition reimbursement for those interested in receiving an advanced degree so ten years later (part-time) I received my Ph.D. in school psychology. I really enjoyed working while going back to school. Although it was a hectic schedule, I found it more rewarding and fruitful to work on an advanced degree while having a good amount of prior experience working in the schools. I am definitely a “life-long learner.” I completed my post-doctorate under the guidance of a very knowledgeable school and clinical psychologist. He encouraged me to sit for the licensure exam to be a clinical psychologist so I am working on passing that test this year and am planning on taking the test this late summer/early Fall. This fall I will be starting my fifteenth year working as a school psychologist in a public therapeutic high school. I absolutely love it. Perhaps, next year when I pass the licensure exam, I will begin to see clients a couple of evenings a week, as well.
I am an active member of both the Illinois School Psychologists Association and the National School Psychologists Association. Both of these groups are an integral part of my professional identity. As an ISPA and NASP member, I found other people that share a passion for school safety. I applied to be a member of the NASP School Crisis Prevention and Response committee and we are currently publishing a book and training curriculum on the PREPaRE Model – School Crisis Prevention & Response. If you have time, check it out on the NASP website: www.nasponline.org
If I had to do it all over again I would reapply to the University of Illinois in Champaign in a heartbeat. I really felt like my psych undergrad degree provided me with a very large knowledge base of what was available in the field of psychology. I felt like the possibilities were endless. I worked on a counseling crisis line, school child abuse prevention project, joined Psi Chi, participated in research experiments as an undergrad, etc. Being an undergrad is the time to explore all of the various topics because I feel that graduate school is a little more specific. U of I offered the strong foundation upon which I have built my career and I will forever be indebted to this outstanding land-grant university in the cornfields! Best of luck to you and enjoy your years at the university because they fly by.
Brian R. Lazzaro, Ph.D.
Nationally Certified School Psychologist
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