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Be the Difference

College of Education Award Recipients

COUNSELOR EDUCATION AND COUNSELING PSYCHOLOGY ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

VarekaKristen C. Vareka, Grad ’08
Wauwatosa, Wis.

Kristen describes her role as a therapist as helping people identify what is and isn’t working in their lives —be it a coping strategy, a relationship or their substance use. Whether it’s been in clinical settings as a therapist or in her former role as clinical services manager at the Guest House in Milwaukee, she has fostered this collaborative process to identify what people in therapy are willing and able to do to create lives more in line with their authentic selves, “One of the most valuable responses a therapist can provide is to simply ‘be’ with someone, showing genuine care, providing a safe space and truly hearing them – both what they are saying and what they aren’t saying,” she says. “As therapists we don’t have the answers. Instead, we walk alongside people as they live their way into their own answers. Working with someone as they create positive changes in their lives is a privilege that I take seriously.”

When Kristen began her Marquette journey, she knew she wanted to work in the counseling field but was unsure which population she wanted to serve. Another Marquette student who worked at the Guest House, a men’s homeless shelter with an on-site mental health/addiction clinic, suggested she take a tour of the organization and consider volunteering. “That was a life-changing decision for me. As soon as I set foot in the Guest House, I knew it was a special place and that it was where I was called to begin my career,” she says.

For several years after graduation, Kristen practiced therapy full-time at the Guest House and worked part-time positions at other clinics within the community to expand her knowledge of settings and techniques. Over time, she moved into roles of greater responsibility at the Guest House, including overseeing the organization’s counseling clinic and serving as Mental Health/Substance Abuse Professional for the Comprehensive Community Services (CCS) Care Coordination team.

As her management responsibilities increased, she gave up her external part-time positions but was able to maintain a small caseload of Guest House therapy clients. “I appreciated the ability to incorporate both the clinical skills I learned at Marquette with the Jesuit value of cura personalis to help people in multiple ways: through individual therapy services, coaching care coordinators on clinical interventions and decision making, and streamlining departmental procedures and processes.”

Feeling a pull in her heart to pursue new opportunities and return to direct client service, Kristen made a difficult decision within the last year to move on from the Guest House. “I trusted my heart and intuition and am now in the process of returning to my roots as a therapist,” she says.


In addition to her work in the mental health field, Kristen started an all-natural soap and body care business with her mom in 2014. What started as a hobby has now expanded to selling their products at farmers’ markets and craft fairs across the state, as well as online and at retail locations. They strive to utilize fair-trade and locally sourced ingredients. Kristen loves the opportunity to exercise her creativity, meet new people and spend time with her mom.

Fun Facts

Name someone (past or present) with whom you'd like to have dinner.
“I would love to be able to have dinner with my younger self – to provide encouragement and reassurance that, even though I’ll experience setbacks and obstacles, I’ll overcome them and help others to do the same,” she says.

Name a Marquette faculty or staff member who had an impact on you, and how.
“Although there were numerous staff who influenced my educational and professional path, it is Dr. Lisa Edwards who most influenced me personally,” Kristen says. “Her multicultural counseling course helped me to better understand the principles of privilege and to think about my experiences differently – not only did that influence my approach in the counseling relationship but in my relationships overall.”

What’s something people may be surprised to learn about you?
“I love to experience the world beyond my daily comfort zone – through food, music, books and especially travel. As a teenager I was fortunate enough to be selected as a short-term exchange student to Italy; the country captured my heart and ignited my passion for seeing the world. Over the years I daydreamed about returning to Italy but the timing wasn’t right, or I didn’t have a travel companion. Then came student loans and eventually a mortgage. But the wanderlust never went away. On New Year’s Day in 2017, I decided the timing would never be ‘right’ and I purchased a plane ticket back to Italy, exactly 20 years later! That summer I spent more than two weeks traveling solo through the country – eating pasta, drinking wine and wandering down as many roads as my feet allowed. Purchasing that plane ticket was one of the best – albeit most impulsive – decisions I’ve ever made.”