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.


Sahira Garcia

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Graduation Year: Fall 2019

Hometown: Des Moines, IA

Current Job: Graduate Assistant for GEAR UP UNI. I am a first year student in the Post-Secondary Student Affairs Graduate program at UNI.

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

Everything I learned during my undergraduate classes in Family Services has helped me become a successful young professional. Learning how to be personable and empathetic has helped me advise the students I work with. The skills you learn from Family Services are applicable in our everyday routines regardless of the occupation one may be in.

What was your biggest takeaway from your time as a Family Service Major?

My biggest takeaway is the mentor and friendships I developed within the program. Everyone experiences challenging times during college, but my challenges became possible with the help and guidance of professors who genuinely care for student success in and outside of the classroom.

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

I graduated as a Family Services major but I decided to take the skills and experiences from FS and channel them into Student Affairs. These are two different fields of study and yet there's so many similarities. I wouldn't change my undergrad major looking back now because it has helped me learn new perspectives in a totally new area of study!

How did you end up as a FS major? 

I have always had a passion for helping people. When I learned how versatile FS is I knew this was the perfect major for me! I also minored in Mental Health. Adding a mental health minor has helped me become and advocate for myself and those around me.

 Steve Dreesman


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Graduation Year: Undergraduate: Major in Psychology; Minor in Family Studies - 2017. Graduate Training: Major in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, 2020.

Hometown: Carroll, IA

Current Job: Mental Health Counselor at Cedar Valley Counseling Services

How has your Family Services minor shaped/benefited you in your career?

My family studies education has proven crucial for me in my work as a counselor. I see both individuals and couples, and the understanding of how family systems can operate helps me provide my clients with psychoeducation and other contextual factors that may be playing a role in their lives. I've utilized, for example, Bronfenbrenner's ecological model as well as relevant research on family/relationship boundaries to place client experiences in context. This helps my clients and myself properly conceptualize cases, and also provides us with options to move to a healthier place.

I also had the opportunity to help conduct research with Dr. Kennedy during my undergraduate training, allowing me not only the chance to co-author a published journal article, but also helped me understand how quality research is done through hands-on experience. This made me a more proficient consumer of research, which is critical for our field. Now, as a practicing professional, I need to stay up-to-date on research relevant to my work, and because of my experiences with the Family Services faculty, I am far better equipped to do this than had I not chosen to take on Family Studies as a minor. 

What was your biggest takeaway from your Family Services minor?

My biggest takeaway from my family studies courses was my learned appreciation for the important role both internal and external factors play in human psychology and behavior. My psychology training helped me learn about the inner workings of human minds, but my family services training helped me fuse this with the importance of external factors, whether this is romantic relationships, family dynamics, or sociocultural factors. The acknowledgement and appreciation for both of these has certainly helped me meet my clients, who come from an enormous array of backgrounds, where they are. 

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

The biggest surprise to me since graduating has been the level of resilience we are capable of having as human beings. There are many days I leave work in legitimate awe at the sheer will and determination people have to live their lives as best they can, despite life experiences that could reasonably leave them in worse predicaments than they have managed to make for themselves. Many of the stories sadden me, or upset me to my core, but I am often filled with hope as clients come out the other side as strong, fulfilled people who look forward to living the rest of their lives. 

How did you end up as a Family Service minor? I became a Family Studies minor after taking a class with Dr. Kennedy, as an elective to complete my undergraduate training. Then, as I began preparing for graduate school, I knew I wanted to get research experience under my belt. I spoke with Dr. Kennedy about whether she was currently conducting research and accepting potential research assistants. At the time, she had not ever taken on an RA before, but fortunately for me she took a chance, and I spent a full academic year working with her on her research focusing on the importance of marriage equality for the mental health and well-being of couples in same-sex relationships. I then enrolled as a family studies minor to round out my training before graduate school, which ended up to be invaluable to my professional development. 



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


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


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."