There are some people in life on whom others can depend to offer a helping hand and a listening ear, and for many, Matt Siegel is that go-to guy. The experiences of this recent M.A. graduate of the counseling psychology program collectively contribute to his talent and ability to be a resource for others in the beginning of what is destined to be a life of service and humanitarianism.
After completing undergraduate studies in philosophy at the University of Vermont in 1996, the Stamford, Connecticut native spent the next few years deciding on what course he wanted his life to follow. While doing so, Matt worked in grants administration for the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington State. Still searching for his calling, he wanted to do something more fulfilling. Inspired by conversations with colleagues who themselves had served in the Peace Corps as well as intrigued by the opportunity to further his travels abroad, Matt opted to apply to the volunteer organization. Given a choice to venture to either the Ivory Coast or Morocco, he chose the latter for what would be a two-year stint.
The year was 1999, and Matt found himself living in a small room in a village built on the side of a mountain range. While learning the native language as well as some Arabic to complement the French he already spoke, Matt worked in a community development program that involved responsibilities such as building irrigation canals and planting fruit trees. At the same time, he also worked with the Moroccan government, and playing middleman between it and the villagers with whom he lived was what he describes as a somewhat "contentious relationship." For example, the government administrated the park on which Matt's community depended for livelihood and wanted to protect its natural resources; however, the residents viewed the bureaucrats as their oppressors. For Matt, it was "different because I had an emotional connection with the community." One way he assisted in resolving the conflict was by helping to plant both pine and apple trees in the park, a plan that appealed to the environmental concerns of the government and the agricultural needs of the citizens.
At the end of 27 months of training and working, Matt debated between moving to either the West or East coast of the U.S., but ultimately decided on Washington, D.C. Interested in social justice, he worked with a private agency subcontracted to provide soft-skills job training to welfare recipients so they would be equipped with the skills necessary to secure employment. After a year in this role, Matt says he "decided to apply to counseling programs that incorporated how I wanted to work with people," and for him, "TC was the best fit." In his view, TC does not simply talk about multiculturalism, but rather, "seems like it is committed to that spirit." His relocation to New York City at the end of 2001 was on the heels of the nation's struggle towards recovery following 9/11. Poised to begin his coursework in January 2002, Matt undertook the challenge of working with Safe Horizon, a mental health project underwritten by the Project Liberty Fund of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New York State Office of Mental Health. He co-facilitated short-term workshops on stress management, conflict resolution, and the effects of trauma on children for groups at non-profits and agencies like the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Matt worked with this initiative for one year.
In May 2004, Matt earned his M.A. degree in his program. "It's gone by so fast," he recalls as he thinks about his time thus far at TC. "I worked as hard as I could. I've been very satisfied with the education I received here." So satisfied that he will begin Ph.D. studies in counseling psychology at the College in the Fall. The guidance and tutelage of standout faculty contributed to his decision to further his studies. "I think about the lessons they've taught me, even beyond the classroom." He describes his coursework with Professor Robert Carter as "one of the more profound educational experiences" he has encountered, and credits Professor Sally Hage as a mentor. She and he are currently collaborating to study how counseling psychology programs in the U.S. prepare students to address spirituality as a function of multiculturalism when working with clients. "This kind of research drew me in because of the importance of spirituality and religion in my own life," Matt says about the project he calls a chance for "cutting my teeth" in the realm of research. He believes his dissertation will incorporate some elements of religion and counseling.
When asked why he wants to pursue his doctorate, Matt says, "I want to be able to do as much as I can-counseling, teaching, research, and consulting. I still have a lot to learn, and I want to see how research affects practice, and how practice affects research." He is seizing the opportunity to see in what ways these two worlds merge by working with a small staff of practitioners four times per year as a facilitator of a therapy group, and with the Sojourners Project at Riverside Church, a ministry that "gives some human support" to non-criminal immigrants incarcerated at a detention center in Queens. Thinking about what his future holds, Matt knows he is still carving his niche, but is quite sanguine about what life will bring. "I see myself as a practitioner," he says, "and with that said, I'll probably practice in some sort of community-based organization or non-profit." Committed to what he envisions for his future, Matt expresses, "That will be the crux of what I do."
Published Tuesday, Jun. 15, 2004