Surrounded by people who have made a career of helping others, it is no surprise Anita Penn Daswani plans to follow in the same footsteps. Inspired by her mother, who is a teacher, as well as her father-in-law, who is a bereavement counselor, she looks forward to graduation and beginning her career in counseling.
“Honestly, I didn’t expect attending class at Hodges would be as fun as it is,” said Daswani.
A master’s student in the clinical mental health counseling (CMHC) program, Daswani arrived at Hodges with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from George Mason University. Originally from the north Virginia-Washington, D.C. area, she graduated with her undergraduate degree in 2008.
“While at George Mason, I participated in a social anxiety lab internship, which measured a variety of [relational] factors among individuals,” she explained. Students looking for extra credit participated in the experiments performed in the lab. Daswani had the student and their significant other solve puzzles in order to measure their interaction, saying, “Our goal was to prove there is a relation between curiosity and social interaction. It was also interesting to see how body language can determine how a relationship is progressing or deteriorating.”
After graduation, she struggled to find work in the psychology field, so she opted to take the path of her mother and teach. Before moving to Southwest Florida, she taught special education at the high school level, as well as advanced biology.
Meeting her husband, Greg, while at George Mason, the two decided to get away from the traffic and politics of D.C., and in 2012, they moved to Southwest Florida. Since relocating and getting married in 2014, Daswani continued to teach special education and English for three years at Barron Collier High School and Naples High School.
In explaining why she decided to teach special education, she said, “Growing up, I had a very close friend with dyslexia, and I was always so inspired by what she was able to do and accomplish.”
However, after three years of teaching, she continued to see the limitations her bachelor’s degree presented in trying to find a job, so she decided to return to school. Researching various colleges and universities online, she discovered Hodges was only a few minutes from her house. “I looked at the program and told myself I had to check it out, so I visited the campus and spoke with a representative. I was just so impressed with the teachers and what was offered,” she said.
Enrolling in June 2015, her professors helped her reconnect with her passion. During her interview before receiving final acceptance in the program, she sat with three members of the CMHC program – Dr. Mary Nuosce, Dr. Tom Hofmann and Dr. Ali Wolf, saying, “They were just full of passion and asking me about my interests, what I plan to get out of the program and how they can help.”
In her final year of the clinical mental health counseling master’s program, Daswani’s experiences at Hodges have provided opportunities for personal growth, leadership and hands-on clinical involvement. Currently, she is interning at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation in Naples, Florida, which is a nonprofit treatment provider for individuals with addiction.
“I didn’t expect to enjoy working in substance abuse counseling, but this internship has led me to see things so differently,” she said. For 15-20 hours each week, she shadows her supervisor who is a licensed social worker and counselor, attending sessions and providing ideas when following up with clients. In addition, she creates assignments for group therapy sessions and plans to lead these sessions in the future.
In the last year of the master’s program, students are required to participate in three internships. They may choose to stay at one site throughout the year or select different sites for each internship duration. For Daswani, she admits, “I love where I am right now. I’m learning so much.”
In addition to her time spent interning, attending class and working part time as a substitute teacher, Daswani is the vice president of Hodges’ Psychology Club, which meets each month to discuss ways to educate students and alumni in the integration of learning and real-world experiences. Dr. Tom Hofmann, who serves as the club’s faculty adviser, said of Daswani, “Anita is a very supportive person and leads in class and in the Psychology Club by creating a positive atmosphere of working together and acknowledging others. She is also very intelligent and helps steer class discussion. She has become even more assertive at this now that she is gaining experience as a counselor.”
Planning to graduate in winter 2017, she has set her sights on becoming a bereavement counselor just like her father-in-law. After the death of her father in 2014, Daswani visited with a bereavement counselor, which led her to recognize the importance and necessity for this particular area of counseling.
“Hodges has helped me in my pursuit of feeling comfortable with my goals in counseling. It has also helped me find my way in the counseling world by placing me in an internship that fits well with me and has helped me become part of something larger than myself (a supportive community of like-minded individuals). Hodges has also taught me the importance of going after what you want and not giving up on your dreams.”