Bio: Elaina is a caring athlete and coach who is passionate about improving mental well-being and health awareness within the diverse sport and performing arts communities. She has a competitive figure skating background and after completing her undergraduate degree at UC San Diego, she began her decade long journey as a professional figure skater. Working for Willy Bietak Productions, Royal Caribbean International and Rand Productions, she has performed internationally in 17 different productions in more than 35 countries. She has had the honor of working with professional performing artists and production teams from a multitude of diverse backgrounds. When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the entertainment industry, Elaina followed a lifelong dream of hers to pursue a career in the mental wellness field and is now coaching figure skating to supplement her pursuit in the next evolution of her career.
Why did you choose UWS?
What I like most about UWS is the holistic approach they take towards the subject of well-being. When I initially started browsing through graduate programs, I chanced upon the doctoral program and was elated to find that this one-of-a-kind program existed— a curriculum that could build upon my prior identity and experiences while also helping me pivot into a new career, with a holistic approach that resonated with my personal worldview. I also appreciate that it allows me to pursue credentials that can boost my resume in an applicable and adaptable manner, to fit a wide variety of job disciplines. This is something I truly value during these changing times. Having taken nine years off from academia and having little experience in the counseling field, I had reservations with applying for an online program. However, I became drawn to the Standardized Patient program that enables us to work with actors portraying clients, to learn the counseling process and skills before transitioning to work with real-life clients. It felt like an appropriate and necessary step for me in my learning process.
What has been your favorite class/instructor?
I have really enjoyed working with Dr. Amy O’Hana. She has been my professor in a few courses, and I am appreciative for her organization, structure, consideration for her students as holistic individuals, and her desire to get to know her students regardless of the virtual platform. More specifically the Career Counseling course was one of my favorites, as the subject was something very close to my heart. Being a professional performer prior to the pandemic, I have experienced first-hand the angst that athletes and performers experience, given the temporal nature of our sporting and performance careers. In my case, the athletic chapter of my career was halted rather suddenly when the COVID-19 pandemic began, in a way that was very much out of my control. It however motivated me to consider how I wanted my career story to evolve, and throughout the career counseling coursework I not only had the opportunity to work with a close colleague of mine through his own pandemic career transition, but also to discover more about my experience in my own.
What has been your experience with learning in the CMHC/SPP program’s online learning environment?
The online platform has been a great learning experience and I could not imagine it any other way. Having taken nearly a decade off from being a full-time student, the platform allows me the flexibility to proactively arrange my studies to best fit my learning and life needs. It also enables me to continue working while pursuing my studies. All my professors have been easily accessible and any issues I have had were easily remedied by sending a quick email. Not to mention how much UWS cares about my continued success. The resources we have access to are extremely helpful for someone who has not been in academia for some time. As a student, you are assigned a program advisor that works with you to ensure you are supported and on track to graduation. I have also found the writing program and librarian to be immensely helpful in teaching me how to research effectively, cite properly and write within the APA format, and the mentorship program has been pivotal in supporting any questions or anxieties I have faced. I was also lucky enough to attend a fantastic networking opportunity that UWS sponsored allowing me to meet other students and graduates of UWS in my city. I truly believe this has helped me feel involved and part of a support network that is greater than myself and has made navigating the online learning environment more personable than I first expected.
What has been the most surprising or eye-opening part of attending UWS?
Not specific to UWS, the most surprising thing for me in attending a graduate program was just how much academic writing I would be doing! It is still challenging for me; however, I am grateful for the resources we have access to, that enable me to further develop my skills. I would also say it was eye-opening how quickly we jumped into assignments that worked with volunteers in our lives. This was intimidating at first, but a truly beneficial way to apply textbook theory to real people.
What do you hope to do after graduation?
Being able to adapt and work in multiple areas of the mental health field is important to me. While my main aspiration is to work with athletes and performing artists, I am open to all possibilities within the mental health field, and I hope to continue the agenda of promoting access to mental health resources for diverse individuals.
What is your favorite activity to destress?
I wanted to give a quick shoutout to my partner, my family and my friends, because having supportive people in my life has been a great alleviator of stress and for that I am immensely grateful. Beyond that I have two favorite destressing activities—the first is a glass of wine and an engaging TV series to binge watch, and the second is helping my partner in our dog walking business. Dogs are the absolute best!