When finding a profession, there are many different pathways people can take. Sometimes it may not be what they were expecting, but in the end, they make it a lifelong career. This is the case for Ralph McPherson, who is a counselor for students at the University of Maine at Presque Isle. He is one of the main staff members on campus who helps students with problems that they may not be able to talk to anyone else about.
Helping college students has been a rewarding experience for Ralph, but he never thought that he would be in this profession. “It was the furthest thing from my mind when I was in high school. Actually, I wanted to be a doctor when I was just a kid. But as I got older, science and math were not my strengths.” So, instead of being a doctor, he decided to go into a profession he would be good at, even though he did not know that he would end up being a counselor.
“I really fell into this by accident. I initially was not going to attend college when I graduated high school. I joined the military but flunked my hearing test. I then had no job, no options…. I was part of a support team in high school that was facilitated by a clinical psychologist. He was the one who first suggested I go to college to get into the helping field. He thought I was a natural at being a counselor.”
With that in mind, Ralph decided to take a swing at it. And he does not seem to regret it, which makes it more rewarding. “Complete strangers trust me to help them. I have had many times in my career when I have been approached by several people, many whom I do not remember, saying ‘you helped me so much.’”
Ralph also explains that being a college counselor is different from anything else he does. “College students bring a different level of needs. They do not always participate in ‘traditional counseling,’ but rather problem-solving and coping, and it is also nice meeting students from all over.” He also states how deciding to become a college counselor was good for him. “In my line of work, I deal with many sick people…people who are ill and dying. Working with college students allows me to work with a healthier population.”
Ralph also decided to come work at UMPI because it is his alma mater. “I love this college. I went to school here and it holds a special place for me. I feel that I am giving back.” He also appreciates how much UMPI has done for him as well. “UMPI has allowed me greater opportunity and connection to teach and it has also developed my skills as a counselor.”
Mary Kate Barbosa, director of student support services, who works with Ralph, says that he is a one-of-a-kind person. “When I call Ralph, and it can be anytime of the day, he always answers. He just puts the students first and is willing to put in the extra work for everything that he does.”
Mary Kate also says that overall he is a genuine and great person. “He is a very chill and laidback person. I have heard students say that when walking to his office, it is calming and a low-stress environment. He wants the students to feel comfortable and get the help they need and he goes out of his way to do nice things when people do not ask him to.”
Ralph is just not a counselor, but he is also a confidant. He is there when a person needs him and is always there to help, and never says no to people who are asking. It is just in his blood to help and to always be there for people.