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Desiré DeSoto '96

Counselor has big impact in home community

When Desiré DeSoto '96 came to Whitworth, she had no intention of becoming an educator. But after the untimely death of her cousin during her sophomore year, she felt led to serve her home community, and her academic focus shifted to education.

After graduating, DeSoto returned to Hawai'i to teach high-risk students at Wai'anae High School. She eventually realized she could do more to help her students cope with their difficult circumstances. She earned a doctorate in organizational psychology and now counsels students as they work through challenges associated with poverty like traumatic home environments, court proceedings, substance abuse, homelessness and significant grief, all while earning their high school diploma. "There's never a dull moment," she says.

DeSoto relishes working with students who share her background. "We are a unique Hawaiian community," she says. "Our experiences growing up are similar and our dialect is similar, so it's easy to communicate complex things because we speak the same language."

DeSoto's work has earned her high honors. She was named the 2018 Hawai'i School Counselor of the Year, and she was selected as one of five finalists for the 2019 American School Counselor of the Year. The recognition has created momentum as DeSoto and her team work to close achievement gaps and increase opportunities for indigenous people and minorities.

In the midst of this work, she strives to maintain balance. "I just want to have the most impact that I can," she says, "and remain sane in the process."

DeSoto's story appears in the spring 2019 issue of Whitworth Today magazine.


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