Positive Therapist, Positive Professor

Carol is one of those people whom you meet who always has a smile on her face. She has an infectious personality.

Carol Elizabeth Westerdahl is 62. She has two sons and her husband is deceased. She teaches for the University of Presque Isle and the University of New England. Westerdahl teaches sociology, Incest and Sexual Abuse this semester, and has taught Psycho-Social Rehab and Community Mental Health. She has taught for UMPI for three years. Westerdahl is a masters level social worker, a licensed clinical social worker and a certified alcohol and drug counselor. Westerdahl has on average about 40 people on a bi-weekly basis for counseling. Many of these clients are teens, as she does counseling for the local Carleton Project private high school.

She always wanted to be a teacher, she recalls, “from the time I was in grade school. I grew up on a farm and there was a big chalk board in our summer kitchen that came from the one room school house down the road after it was torn down. I played school all the time.”

“I began my undergraduate career hoping to be a high school English teacher. As I continued on I found that jobs were few and far between in this area and I did want to work. Jean Henderson and I spent time discussing what avenue to take and came up with social work. I always wanted to work with teens and this was a way to do what I loved. I began in case management, moved on to substance abuse counseling and finally went on to get my masters degree in clinical social work.”

She decided to teach because the University of New England “approached me as I had graduated from there in 2011 with my master’s degree. After teaching online I was anxious to teach live classes and the staff at the Houlton outreach encouraged me to offer my credentials to UMPI and I was approved to teach.” The reason she decided to teach for UMPI is that she says “I graduated from UMPI. It actually took all my classes at the outreach center so I have a real attachment to the college and wanted to continue my connection and I love to teach!!” She also says, “I love the family feeling of the staff and students.” When asked why she teaches sociology she says, “I love the discussion format of this class and I find it amazing to watch students really think about society and culture and how it truly does affect everything we do.”

When asked what she likes to do in her free time, Westerdahl replied, “I have two grown sons and daughters-in-law and five grandchildren. I have a wonderful big brother and sister and a great sister and brother-in law. Family is very important to me and I spend most of my free time with them. I have many friends and travel as often as I can. Life is good!”

Westerdahl says, “A good therapist is like a detective, helping folks sift through the hidden emotions within to discover what it is that makes them tick. It is important to all of us to know why we do what we do, feel how we feel. I feel as a teacher and therapist it is my calling to help people recognize the good in others, to let go of judgment and anger and move closer to all mankind.

“Both students and clients have taught me that we are not born bad, we are the sum total of all we have experienced! No matter how terrible the situation looks we always have two choices, we can only see the worst or we can move forward, finding what it is that we can take from the event and learn, grow and become better people.

Her past students say this about her. Brandon Suitter says, “It is a very laidback class, the sociology. She is easy to work with, very understanding. If she had a class that I needed and she was the instructor, I would take it. If you like heated discussions, take Carol’s class.” Another student, Katie Rogers, says, “Carol is the ideal teacher for a college student. She is understanding that life happens outside of class and does not treat you like a high school student. And she adds a personal level to her teaching methods, connecting with her students more than the average teachers.” Vanessa Jacobsen says, “I thought Mrs. Westerdahl was a great teacher. She made all of the information easy to understand. She also was very good at getting everyone to participate. She has a very nice, warmhearted attitude and was always willing to help you when you needed it.”

Westerdahl’s advice to students is “never give up what you believe but always allow other folks the right to do the same. No judgment. Being positive often takes work, it does not necessarily come easily. I have been told that I am a positive person…. That is the result of a lot of effort on my part, but also from being blessed with that optimistic outlook. Anyone can become more positive if they just learn how.”