Featured Alum: Bridgena “Gena” Willis ’09
Gena is a Senior Counselor at SUNY Brockport. After earning her undergraduate degree, she continued her education in the SUNY system and now holds a Master of Arts degree in Higher Education Administration from Stony Brook University.
Gena is currently the advisor for the Chi Alpha Epsilon Honor Society, advisor for the Caribbean Student Association (CSA), a member of the College at Brockport’s UUP College Review Panel, Marion Shrank Award Committee, Rochester Area Career Development Association (RACDA) serving on the professional development committee, ROC 2025 in conjunction with the Rochester Chamber of Commerce, and SUNY Career Development Organization where she serves as the Secretary/New Member Coordinator and has served on both the professional development and programming committees, as well as the newly formed Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee.
Please describe your path from SUNY Brockport to your current position.
I left SUNY Brockport in 2009 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology and a promise of a terrible job market. I had no idea of what I really wanted to do with my degree (except work and earn a living) and therefore no plan. I heard about Civil Service jobs, so I began applying to everyone I was eligible for, in fact I applied to every job I was qualified to do.
In my attempts to find work I ended up securing a job with the US Census Bureau as an Office Operations Supervisor. While this job did not appear to have anything to do with the degree I just earned I realized over time just how much my experience at SUNY Brockport helped me to secure the job. I was initially hired as an Enumerator, which means the expectation was for me to go door to door and get people to complete their Census form. I spent the first week in training trying to figure out how I was going to get out of going door to door, when I heard about an opportunity to volunteer in the office.
I jumped at the chance to work in the office where I was able to utilize what I learned in Industrial Organizational psychology with Dr. McNall. I understood the need for functionality, and I was always interested in the assessment of organizations. I took the time I had while volunteering to observe how the organization functioned. I was able to take notes and make recommendations to improve functionality. The manager was so impressed she pushed for me to become a supervisor. While I loved working for the Census it was a temporary role and as the season wrapped up, I was able to secure a position with Monroe County’s Department of Social Services and an Examiner.
an examiner, I interviewed potential clients to determine eligibility for benefits. This role felt more in line with my degree and was a great opportunity for me to utilize the skills I had obtain while in school. While the role was great, it did not allow me the hands-on opportunity to help people the way I really wanted. I left that role and moved on to a position called Life Skills Instructor with the Villa of Hope. I worked in an inpatient house for adolescent boys aged 13-21 who struggled with alcohol and drug abuse. This position was great for hands on experience, and I had the ability to make an impact on the clients.
While working at this job I got the opportunity to work a civil service job at SUNY Brockport. This was an opportunity I waited on for a long time, as I was on the civil service list for four years. Over the years I took a deep look at what I really wanted to do and how I could be the most impactful while working. I realized I felt at home in higher education, so I jumped at the opportunity to come to SUNY Brockport. I have been at SUNY Brockport the past eight and a half years, and I have held several positions. I absolutely love my current position of Senior Counselor which not only allows me to work closely with students and have a direct impact, but it also allows me to use the training and education I received at SUNY Brockport all those years ago.
What was the most valuable lesson you learned while at SUNY Brockport?
The most valuable lesson I have learned while at SUNY Brockport has been the importance of making connections. While I was only a student at SUNY Brockport a short time the connections I made with faculty and staff have proved to be long lasting, impactful and helpful on multiple levels. My connections at SUNY Brockport have led to employment opportunities and recommendations for graduate school. I could talk all day about the many benefits of making connections.
What is your favorite memory from your time at SUNY Brockport?
My favorite memory from my time at SUNY Brockport is working with Dr. Kelly Brennan-Jones as a tutor for Statistics. Dr. Brennan-Jones has a unique way of viewing the world and opened my eyes to really learning and getting to understand people.
What advice would you give to current SUNY Brockport students? Any special advice for our psychology majors?
My advice to current SUNY Brockport students is to utilize your resources. Students tend to forget there is help or they assume they must go on this college journey alone. This is simply not true. I bet if you looked around at the faculty and staff you have already encountered you will find there are multiple resources available to you.
What learned skills and/or experiences from your time at SUNY Brockport were the most transferable or useful in your current position?
The most transferable skill I learned from my time at SUNY Brockport was probably learned in my Personality class with Dr. Brennan-Jones. The ability to understand people is valuable no matter what setting you are in.
Please describe any challenge/obstacle you faced while at or since leaving SUNY Brockport and how you overcame/dealt with it.
The most challenging obstacle I have faced since leaving SUNY Brockport has been operating/functioning during the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Finding a balance between supporting students, working from home and being a mom proved to be more challenging than I ever thought. I had to be present without physically being present. My strategy was to be honest with myself about what I was really able to do and to be honest with my students and my boss. Effective communication carried me through such a trying time.