College of Social and Behavioral Sciences

Alumni you should know!

Graduates of the Family Services program make a positive impact on people in the real world. We think that they deserve to be recognized for their accomplishments.

          Tom Van Sickel


Name: Tom Van Sickel

Graduation year: 1999

Home Town: Moravia, Iowa

Major: Family Services

Current job: Missionary

How has your major in FS shaped/benefited you in your career?

"From my perspective Family Services equips a person to better identify and help individuals and families face both normal and unique life challenges. So for any occupation, where the goal is to listen and to care for the individual/family, including full time ministry, a major in FS is beneficial”

What was your biggest take away from your time as a Family Service major?

“Definitely one of thing is that when it comes to the personal struggles of life, that education in regards to those struggles can actually equip a person to overcome them.”

What has/have been the biggest surprise(s) you have encountered since graduating?

“I never dreamed that I would live long term in a foreign country or marry someone from a different country, and yet here I am.”

How did you end up an FS major?

“I wanted to enter a field where I could help people and relate to families. Family Services fit this perfectly.”

What advice would you give high school graduates about attending college?

1)  "Build friendships that don’t depend on substance abuse to have fun. Friends that you just enjoy being with and vise versa."

2)  "Be purposeful to build friendships with people from different cultures and backgrounds. These friendships will take you many places and only enrich your understanding of the world."


       Elizabeth Kellner - Nelson


Name: Elizabeth Kellner-Nelson

Graduation year: 2000

Home State: Iowa

Major: Family Services, minor Sociology

Current job: Attorney, Family Law

Elizabeth furthered her education through Kansas State University where she received a master’s degree in Family Education and Consultation. She then attended Drake Law School where she focused, mainly, on family law. 

How has your major in FS shaped/benefited you in your career?

“Through the Family Services major, I learned concepts and ideas about families that I continue to utilize on a daily basis. I work with many people in crises and, because of the Family Services classes along with the volunteer work that I did, I have been well prepared to do so. I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter during my time as an undergraduate, which enabled me to identify the importance of linking families with appropriate resources.”

What was your biggest take away from your time as a Family Service major?

“My biggest take away is all of the relationships I built with the Family Services professors. They were always so helpful. I still keep in touch with many of them; we even exchange Christmas cards! I was a single mom during my time as a Family Services major and I am so grateful that the professors were accommodating and supportive of me; their doors were always open.”

What has/have been the biggest surprise(s) you have encountered since graduating?

“I knew that I wanted to be in a helping profession and I assumed that I would be able to see my impact on clients but in reality, I usually don’t see the impact. There is so much burn out in the Family Services field and I think this is a big reason for that. There is also a lack of training in the field and nothing can honestly prepare you for working with such a diverse group of people.”

How did you end up an FS major?

“Coming from a divorced family and being a single mom myself, I was interested in different types of families and how they function within themselves and within the world around them.”


Jake Schaefer


Name: Jake Schaefer

Graduation year: December, 2001

Hometown: Aurelia, IA

Major: Family Services

Current job: Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor 

How has your major in FS shaped/benefited you in your career?

“The FS major helped me to understand family dynamics and the dysfunction that often comes with it. Dr. Bass taught me to view others through multiple perspectives, especially when it comes to low-income families. She also helped me to understand that when people don’t have the skills or tools necessary to provide adequate care for themselves or their families, it doesn’t mean they don’t care.” 

What was your biggest take away from your time as a Family Service major?

“One class that really impacted me was Research Methods. The critical thinking skills and multiple perspectives that I developed through that class prepared me for graduate school and my profession.”

What has/have been the biggest surprise(s) you have encountered since graduating?

“One major surprise came from Dr. Fleming’s class, which focused on sex offenders. During the class, I couldn’t understand how anyone could ever sexually assault someone and felt like it would never be something that would happen to anyone that I knew. Since then, I have worked with many sex offenders and have seen sexual assault cases around me. I never understood any of it until I actually talked with perpetrators and worked to help them.”


“Another surprise has been the reality of “burn out” and how important self-care is when you are working a full-time job.”

How did you end up an FS major?

“I began as a Psychology major but was drawn into the family services area due to the human approach to helping people versus such a clinical approach. The Family Services major laid down a good foundation for my counseling career.” 

                   Tabatha Cruz


From: Texas

Current Position: Program Coordinator for Iowa State University

Major/Minor and Graduation Year: Class of 2008 - Family Services major, Dance minor

Bio: Tabatha attended the University of Northern Iowa on a scholarship in 2005 as a transfer student. She chose to become a Family Services major because of the large population that it opened up for her to work with. Tabatha’s multicultural background allowed her to understand the importance of enabling others to receive educational and professional opportunities that otherwise may not have been an option. She furthered her education through Illinois State University in higher education and used her previous degree to turn “parent programs” into “parent and family programs” during her time as an orientation intern in Texas.

Advice for students considering a major/minor in Family Services:

"Take time for yourself and remember the importance of self-care"

"If you need time off from anything, take it! Working with people is mentally exhausting, but also very rewarding"

"A major in Family Services is great!"


Benefits of a Family Services major/minor:

"It has allowed me to understand and work with different students, parents, and families, and to do so with tact."

"My interest in Family Systems Theory as well as the skills I built through the Family Service's courses, pushed me to do research about parent involvement with students in my graduate level work."