Carolyn Bogott: Finding a student’s potential

Published 7:25 pm Tuesday, January 2, 2024

Suzette Overby, Human Services Program coordinator, and instructor at Riverland Community College, describes an early experience, which perhaps showed her “calling,” although she didn’t think of it that way until later.

As a third grader she was asked by her teacher to calm down another student who, in a temper tantrum, had thrown over a desk and crawled under it. Suzette crawled in with her and asked her what was wrong and was able to calm her classmate down. This early experience used the inherent skills that Suzette has honed during her expansive life experiences helping people and teaching others to be effective in human interactions.

Suzette grew up on a horse and cattle farm in Dennison, Minnesota.  Her father was a rodeo bull rider and she and her three sisters participated in rodeo barrel racing, because they were only allowed to ride the mock- up bull made from a barrel pulled by ropes to make it buck.

Email newsletter signup

This strong, dynamic woman brings a wide range of pertinent experience to her teaching, which she describes more as “coaching.”

With a degree in Corrections and Law Enforcement from Mankato State University, her first job was as survival counselor with challenging adolescent girls in an Outward-Bound Program involving preparing the girls to complete a 100-mile group hiking trip. Suzette next worked in a group home for chronically mentally ill adults, and then in Alaska as an independent living counselor, working with “throw away kids,” whose parents had “chosen no longer to be a parent.”

She considered law school after being mentored in a law office doing everything from clerical work to paralegal work, but ultimately, she opted to get a master’s degree in counseling and human services at DePaul University in Chicago.

Next Suzette worked as a clinician for the City of Virginia Beach doing intensive child-centered in-home family therapy, trying to determine if a child could stay in the family or would have to be placed in foster care, psychiatric health care, or a correctional situation.

Back in Minnesota, she worked in children’s mental health before moving to Austin with her now ex-husband and twin girls. When on very short notice Suzette was asked to teach an interactive television class in Psychology at Riverland, she agreed immediately, although she had never taught before. She continued to teach at Riverland and when Al Mayotte retired, she was hired full time in the human services program.

Along with her teaching, Suzette is the advisor for the human services program’s service club called DEEDS (Dedication  Education, Empowerment Diversity Service).  This group takes field trips to human services delivery sites and also does service projects in cooperation with programs like the United Way Day of Caring, the Riverland food shelf, the Salvation Army, and weekend snack backpacks. Suzette also was an advisor for six years with the Phi Theta Kappa Honorary Society, has given 12 years as union representative and was on the accreditation team for 10 years.

Suzette’s students give her very high praise. A former student said: “She becomes invested in her students personally and gets to know us, seeing our potential as aspiring human services professionals. She instilled in me the compassion and empathy we must bring to the profession, ethical values to use in the field and how to treat every individual with dignity and respect.”

Suzette keeps in contact with many of her former students and they often call her for advice. She has had wonderful mentors in her life and wants to pass on that support to her students. It is clear she is completely dedicated to her field and want to produce the best human services professionals possible. She will go to great lengths when she sees real potential in a student, including helping to get minor legal offenses expunged, but she will also level with a student who is not willing to do the work to build the emotional strength required in this profession.

This self-described “super independent” woman’s advice for living is “to rely on yourself but don’t be afraid to ask for help.”

Suzette Overby, we thank you for the huge contributions you have made to producing strong human services professionals to serve in our community and others.