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Woman’s experience shapes success for others

Susan McInvale, a counselor in the psychiatric ward at Cortland Regional Medical Center, is shown Friday in the courtyard of the medical center’s Nursing and Rehabilitation wing. McInvale said she’s saddened to hear some students tell her that there are high school counselors who tell students they are not smart enough to advance their education.

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Susan McInvale, a counselor in the psychiatric ward at Cortland Regional Medical Center, is shown Friday in the courtyard of the medical center’s Nursing and Rehabilitation wing. McInvale said she’s saddened to hear some students tell her that there are high school counselors who tell students they are not smart enough to advance their education.

When Susan McInvale, of Cortland, was in high school, her guidance counselor told her she was not smart enough for college.

Now, with a bachelor’s degree, two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in progress, McInvale looks back on that advice with confoundment.

She uses those degrees to be the counselor she never had, identifying with students in need of guidance. Currently McInvale works full-time as a counselor in the psychiatric ward at Cortland Regional Medical Center. Two nights a week she teaches at the Cortland County Community Action Program, or CAPCO, working with students trying to get their high school equivalency diplomas.

McInvale said one of the most disappointing statements she hears from current students is that there are high school counselors still telling kids what her counselor told her: they should not go to college and they are not smart enough to advance their education.

“We need to tell people they can do good and be encouraging them more,” McInvale said.

This kind of philosophy is what she said she tries to instill in her teachings and counseling. She said when teaching at CAPCO she works with people from all walks of life, with varying challenges. The students teach her about their lives and the problems they go through and McInvale tries to adapt her teaching method to their specific needs, she said.

“She is a great teacher,” said Gale Bundy, high school equivalency program coordinator at CAPCO. “She has a real depth of understanding of what is going on with young people.”

McInvale’s first crowning moment came when working as a middle school teacher in Houston, Texas. She said there was one student who was not doing well in school and was on the verge of dropping out.
“I had a conversation with the student and told him he has the potential to succeed, “ she said. “He told me no one had ever told him that before.”

That student later went on to be the first member of his family to graduate high school and soon found a job after school. McInvale said that is one of her most memorable moments in her career, because not only did she realize her own potential and by helping that student succeed, she may have helped a second generation in that family to succeed in the same way, if not further.

She has taken a long path to get to where she is now in her career. After graduating high school in Buffalo, she joined the military in the late 1970s and served for four years, traveling all around the world. McInvale said the experiences she gained while serving have been beneficial in what she does now.

“The military teaches you to become a critical thinker and go through issues,” she said. “You are also taught how to get along with a lot of different people.”

Years later, after deciding she liked teaching, she went to college and graduated from the University of Houston in 1991 with a bachelor’s degree in education. That same year, she began working at the middle school in Houston.

In 1994 she moved to Vancouver, Washington, getting her first experience working with displaced people and young adults looking to get their GED. Then, in 2000, she decided to move back to New York, this time landing in Cortland. Two years later she started working at OCM BOCES, at 110 Elwood Davis Road, continuing to teach students who are trying to attain their GED.

“I would go out to homes and find people without a high school diploma and try to encourage them to get their GED,” McInvale said.

She stayed there for only two years, as she went on to become an elementary school teacher at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Cortland. While there the principal encouraged her to get her master’s degree, prompting a possible career advancement. She graduated from LeMoyne College with a master’s degree in school administration and certificate of advanced study in 2009.

Soon after, the principal left the position and McInvale stepped into the role. But she was not there long, as she decided to leave the position later in 2009 to take care of her sick mother.

She could not stay away from her passions for too long, though.

McInvale ended up getting her second master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Walden University’s online program in 2014. During that time, she interned in the psychiatric ward in the Medical Center and was hired when she attained her degree.

McInvale began working for CAPCO in 2013, while looking for work during her education. And in a year and a half will have her Ph.D in clinical psychology.

“I love continuing my education,” McInvale said.

All of these skills have been put to good use for everything she is involved with. Bundy said it takes a special person to manage everything McInvale does.

“She has a love for her students, teaches them life skills and has a key understanding on how to encourage them to succeed,” Bundy said.

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