Meet Rhea Staniszewski ‘04

Director, Child Advocacy Center
Howell, Michigan
— social work, psychology & Spanish majors

Q. How did you choose Augustana? 

A. I had narrowed down my search two three Lutheran colleges in the area. I visited Augustana and I remember walking around campus and having several students greet me in passing, as well as several staff and faculty taking the time to meet with me. It was such a warm environment and I knew it was a better fit than the other two colleges I had visited.

Life at Augie

Q. Favorite class and why? 

A. This is a tough one, but I think I would have to go with After Aushwitz, taught by Dr. Haar. The subject matter itself was intense and thought-provoking, and Dr. Haar is an amazing teacher. But the class really challenged, and ultimately resulted in a change in, my belief systems. I can honestly say that class was life changing for me.

Q. Favorite professor and why?

A. Dr. Nesiba. I only had him for one class – a spring break trip and accompanying class to Nicaragua, but I also knew him from the Augustana Coalition for Social Justice and he was my group faculty mentor one year that I was an NSO leader. Dr. Nesiba really helped me to look at the world through a different lens and pursue my passion for social justice. Plus, he always makes me and most people he encounters laugh!

Q. Best Augie memory?

A. So many! I have two that come right to mind. One was a night in Nicaragua while we were staying in a mountain community with no electricity (or running water). It was completely pitch black and we all sat under the stars and sang. The other memory was my last night at Augustana. I was the first of my roommates to move out and we all brought our mattresses into the living room and had a big sleepover. The next morning, I drove away sobbing as they waved goodbye. I knew that I had made lifelong friends.

After Augie

Q. Tell us about your journey after graduating from Augustana – first job, grad school, travel, etc.?

A. I started grad school a few weeks after I graduated and after 15 months straight earned my Masters Degree in Social Work from the University of Denver. I had the opportunity to take some educational trips to Mexico and Guatemala while there. I stayed in Denver for 9 years and relocated to Michigan two years ago.

Q. Tell us about your career – what’s an average day like?

A. One thing I love about my job is that there really isn’t an average day. Yesterday I spent the day writing a grant and putting together a training for our multi-disciplinary team. Today I was interviewed on a local talk show and met with a potential funder. Tomorrow I am covering for a staff member who is out and I will be conducting a few forensic interviews.

Q. Greatest challenges and best rewards of your current role?

A. The greatest challenge is working with a variety of people from different professional backgrounds who may not have the same or similar perspective and trying to bring us all on the same page and do what is best for the kids we serve. There are a lot of “personalities” and a fair amount of conflict. I have had to become much more comfortable dealing with conflict.

It may sound clichéd, but the reason I stick with this work is because I know that it does help child victims of abuse. I have interviewed kids and had them tell me truly awful stories and when we finish I ask how they are doing and they tell me what a relief it is to finally tell someone. That brings me joy knowing that they can begin their process of healing.

Q. Greatest professional accomplishment thus far?

A. I led our agency to national accreditation over a period of a year, a process that often takes agencies several years to achieve.

Q. What’s next for you professionally?

A. Well, right now I am really content and feel fortunate that I am able to be in my current position and grateful for the flexibility it allows me to spend time with my children. But, I hope to continue in non-profit management, preferably working with victims of crime.

Q. If you could offer a prospective or existing Augie student some advice, what would you say?

A. I would tell them to take advantage of the opportunities Augie gives you to enhance your skills. I was involved in many student organizations and took on leadership roles in several. I honestly believe that I would not be the leader or manager I am today without the practice I got at Augustana!

At Home

Q. Tell us about your family.

A. I am the proud mama of two beautiful boys, Kai and Everett. I am going on eight years with my husband Brent. We also have two rambunctious dogs, Mido and Leela.

Q. What’s given you the greatest personal satisfaction since graduating from Augie? And why?

A. Being a mom. It truly is like nothing else. I love my job and the work I get to do, but it doesn’t compare to the joy my sons bring me.

Q. A foundation for life at Augustana begins with our five core values – Christian Faith, Liberal Arts, Excellence, Community and Service. How did your time at Augustana help to ensure those values remain central in your life?

A. Again, Augustana does a great job at giving plenty of opportunities to students to participate in activities embracing these values. They become part of one’s life. I had such great opportunities to volunteer and become involved in the community, and I continued to do so in Denver and now Michigan. I believe that the liberal arts education I received helps me in the non-profit world, where we have to be jacks of all trades.