Psychology Alumni Feature
Clarissa (Pedrotti) Williams ’16 and Alex Williams ’17
Clarissa and Alex Williams met at SUNY Brockport during first year orientation, and they have been inseparable ever since. They were happily married in the summer of 2021. When they aren’t working, they are spending time with their 2 wonderful dogs and making renovations to their new home.
What is your current position and what do you find the most fulfilling about it?
Clarissa: I currently work as a nanny for an almost 2-year-old child. I work with him on developmental milestones and serve as his daily caretaker. I like working at a job where I can see the difference I am making almost every day. It is very fulfilling when he reaches a new milestone and I get to watch him grow and be a part of it.
Alex: My current position is Associate Director of SUNY Brockport’s Educational Talent Search program. What I find most rewarding in this position is that I can give back to the community in a meaningful way that can change students’ lives. While the goal of the job is to help RCSD students get into college or trade school, the real mission is assisting students in figuring out what future they want for themselves and helping them find a path that will allow them to reach their goals. There is so much potential in the Rochester City School District students and I get the honor of helping them reach their potential every day.
Please describe your path from SUNY Brockport to your current position.
Clarissa: After graduating from Brockport in 2016, I started graduate school. In 2018, I earned my Master’s degree in Social Work with a concentration in working with children and families from Roberts Wesleyan college. Following graduation with my MSW, I worked for Catholic Charities of Wayne County for a couple years. I co-facilitated workshops on healthy relationships. We went into high schools and worked with adults in the community to lead these groups. After the grant funded program ended, I started working at a mental health clinic. I did individual therapy with all age groups - children, adolescents and adults. I was also contracted at a school part time through the clinic as well. After going through a job change and a pandemic, I realized not long after that I needed to find a job I loved and where I could also focus on my mental health. I knew I loved working with children and was knowledgeable in that area. I then found a family looking for a caretaker and have been working with them ever since.
Alex: During my time at SUNY Brockport, I was a Psychology major with Pre-Health minor. I told everyone that I was going to be a psychiatrist. However, the way things worked out in the scheduling of classes, I had a gap year that I needed to fill. Through the college and Career Fair I was able to get a position with Warrior Salute as a case manager for veterans with PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Substance Abuse. Even though I was doing well in the position, I felt like there was more I should be doing to affect change in my community. When I started looking for another path to fill my gap year, I found this position for a College and Career Advisor with Brockport’s ETS program. Given my status as an alumnus of both Brockport and TRIO Alumni of SUNY Fredonia’s Upward Bound program, I thought what better way to give back than to help students like me reach for the same opportunities that changed my life. I applied, and the interview felt like we had known each other for years. Although they were not happy that I was only there for a year until I went to medical school, I got the job. Somewhere along the way, observing students’ progress, seeing the joy on their faces when they get into college opening up a new world of possibilities for them, I found a sense of purpose. It was a purpose that I did not feel when I was in my organic chemistry class. (Anyone in the pre-health field knows how complex organic chemistry is). From there, my love of bridging the gap to college access and helping the next generation better themselves led me to get my Master’s in Strategic Leadership from Roberts Wesleyan. Even though it is a business degree, it taught me how to get the best out of people. Psychology taught me the importance of seeing others’ points of view and what could be influencing their decisions, and Strategic Leadership taught me how to use that knowledge to help them better themselves.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned while at SUNY Brockport?
Clarissa: SUNY Brockport helped me learn and grow into the person I am now in many ways. I was on my own for the first time and was learning independence. The term self-care was talked about a lot in the psychology major. Working in the human service field and helping others everyday means you must be very aware of when you need to take care of yourself and your mental health. Being at Brockport, I learned about what self-care can look like and its importance. I’ve had jobs in the past that were draining and tough on my mental health. I learned that sometimes it’s okay to move on from those opportunities and make sure you are taking care of yourself. Now I am working at a job I really like, using many skills I learned in college, and I am so thankful that Brockport was able to show the importance of self-care.
Alex: One of the most important lessons I learned at Brockport was that if you are always looking for the next opportunity, you will usually find one, then all you must do is go after it. Most of the fantastic experiences in my life came from having the courage to “shoot my shot.” Brockport is one of those environments where the worst thing that can come of you asking for something is for them to say no. When I heard that one of my favorite psychology professors, Dr. Brown, was researching mindfulness, I simply walked up to her in between classes and asked her if I could be her research assistant. From that one opportunity, I got to earn three years’ worth of research credits, travel to major research conferences like EPA and MPA, and present the findings. It made learning meaningful and taught me how to evaluate the meaning behind all the numbers and big words that make people scratch their heads when reading research papers. Also, I would be in the dog-house if I didn’t mention shooting my shot also landed me my amazing wife, Clarissa Williams, at first-year orientation.
What is your favorite memory from your time at SUNY Brockport?
Clarissa: It’s honestly been very hard to think of one single favorite memory from my time at Brockport. I have so many memories and have met some amazing people along the way. Freshman year I met my wonderful husband. I also made many lifelong friends at Brockport, some who I now consider family. One memory that comes to mind is pledging the fraternity Alpha Phi Omega. It is a community service co-ed fraternity. I met my “Big” the first night and we became close friends and she even ended up being a bridesmaid in my wedding. We did projects in the community and got to meet people all through the county and state. One project I hosted was a blanket making event. Members of the fraternity met in the Ben/Dob lounge and made blankets for children at Bivona Child Advocacy Center. I feel like the fraternity was a turning point in my college career. I felt as though I was able to show my true personality and ended up making some lifelong connections.
Alex: One of my favorite academic memories at Brockport would have to be the time in Psychology 110 when Dr. Brown was discussing schemas. For non-psych students, it’s how people organize all the information they know about the world and how it helps them process new information. During the lecture, she used the example that when she mapped out her knowledge of animals under birds that don’t fly, she had penguins. I saw this as an opportunity to have some fun and decided I should try to convince her penguins could fly, and it was a new discovery. After getting the shocked response from classmates and Dr. Brown, I argued my case and claimed I could prove that penguins could fly. So, I pulled up this obviously fake video that is essentially CGI of penguins flying. By the end of the video, Dr. Brown knew two things. The first is that penguins still, in fact, cannot fly, and the second thing that I was going to make that class fun. To this day whenever she thinks about penguins, I am sure that memory is part of her schema.
What advice would you give to current SUNY Brockport students? Any special advice for our psychology majors?
Clarissa: My advice for current Brockport students would be to take advantage of the opportunities in front of you. One of my favorite aspects of the psychology program was working in research labs. Going into college I did not think research would be something of interest. However, I was given opportunities to try it out in class and outside of class and was surprised with how much I liked it. Even outside of classes, join the clubs that sound fun to you or go to college events that interest you. Those are the things you will remember the most after graduating. I learned so much and made a lot of memories by taking advantage of those unexpected opportunities. It is something I carry with me in my current career and life and will continue to do so in the future.
Alex: To current students of SUNY Brockport, I would like to say that college is the time for exploration. For a lot of students, it’s the first time they have been away from home for such a long time. Odds are that you came to college alone, and didn’t know many people when you got there, and that is okay. So go out, make friends based on similarities and not on proximity to you. Expose yourself to new experiences because the more you experience the world and what it has to offer, the more its shifts your perspective. Just make the most of whatever you are experiencing, and in the end, you will find that the bumpy parts of your journey weren’t as bad as they seemed to be at that moment.
To psychology students, the field of Psychology and social sciences is in demand now more than ever. Throughout this pandemic, anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns have risen. The education you are getting here can save countless lives. Mental health has never been more important, and as future mental health professionals, you not only want to help others, but you also need to take care of yourself. Saving the world is excellent and admirable, but you cannot pour from an empty cup. Make sure you’re doing what’s best for you, as well as our global community.
What learned skills and/or experiences from your time at SUNY Brockport were the most transferable or useful in your current position?
Clarissa: Doing research in both Dr. Lipko-Speed and Dr. Forzano’s labs taught me a lot. Both labs I worked with children while running trials and collecting data. Even though I did not go into a career that is directly in research, I learned a lot about impulsivity and metacognition. While working in the labs too I worked with others and learned a lot about working cohesively with a team. Those experiences and lessons I learned while doing research are ones that I think about and use to this day.
Alex: When I was in school at SUNY Brockport, the most important skills I learned were critical thinking and data analysis. We live in a world full of information, and everything is “Google-able.” However, while there is a lot of factual information, there is also a lot of misinformation. Being able to think through a paper, dissect what it is saying, and identify the holes in the logic are essential skills to master. I know the research papers were boring, but the skills you gain from them are invaluable.
Anything else you would like to share?
Alex: Whatever you decide to do with your life, enjoy every second of it. Even the hard parts are worth experiencing. I like to think life is all about balance, taking the bitter with the sweet. When you hit an obstacle, be brave enough to keep working towards your goals, even when you aren’t sure how it will work out. Celebrate the small wins and keep taking the next step. You never know when success will come, but you can be very sure you’re closer now than when you started. Plus, you get to make some awesome friends along the way, shoutout to my crew from 501 Perry and everyone that made my time at Brockport so memorable!