A life of helping new generations find their calling

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    NEWTON-Joseph McNally has spent much of his life helping others to figure out what to do with their lives. McNally is known as the counselor who can take a college freshman, unsure and lacking confidence, and put him on the path to academic success. "You can spend a half hour with this student, who doesn't know which end is up, and giving them the whole picture gives them the confidence to go on," said McNally, a counselor at Sussex County Community College for the past 13 years. McNally was honored this month with the New Jersey Community College Counselors Association's Award for Counselor Excellence. He was nominated for the award by SCCC President Bradley Gottfried and was chosen by a panel of his peers statewide. The award "caps a career," said McNally, 69, who will scale back to part-time status with the college. A problem with his knees has recently forced him to use a wheelchair. "It's an honor for the college to have someone like Joe," said Gottfried. "He is very special. And he does as well with the 17-year-old as he does with the older individual." The community college's varied aged student population makes the counselor's job different every day. McNally is one of more than a dozen full- and part-time counselors at SCCC who meet with students on a walk-in basis, and who give them advice on everything from scheduling classes, picking a major, choosing a career and personally adjusting McNally has been a full-time counselor and teacher at SCCC since 1991. He taught business subjects and then was given a Freshman Seminar class, where he immediately found a calling. His ability to help new students adjust to college life has earned him invitations to speak at seminars throughout the United States, in Ireland and England. McNally is known as a person who can make a difference for each student he talks with, said Gottfried. "There are many, many people out there in this community who would not have success, if it wasn't for Joe McNally," he said. McNally said he's learned to take advantage of each meeting with students. "When students come (to SCCC) they all come through here. You have that opportunity. It makes such a big difference," McNally said. Sometimes, it's a matter of giving them the confidence they need to handle an independent life in college. McNally sometimes does an exercise with the students in which he shows them how much they already know and how fast they learn. For the student who is lacking confidence and self esteem, "that can turn things around." Prior to coming to SCCC, McNally was director of admissions at William Patterson University, where he also served as director of enrollment services. He began his education career as a high school teacher history teacher, then an economics teacher. His interest in economics led to the CIA offering him a job in economics analysis. McNally stayed in education, however, and soon moved to the field of guidance, setting up a guidance department at Hudson Catholic High School. He made the move from high school to college level work when he took a guidance opening at Jersey City State College. At the community college level, McNally said he's found some reward in preparing students to leave after two years to go on to a four-year college, where they serve as role models for the freshmen there. The New Jersey Stars Program, which rewards top high school students with free tuition at community colleges, and Phi Theta Kappa, the program that is the two-year college's version of a National Honor Society, have both helped to identify the community college student as a positive recruit for four-year institutions, McNally said. Both of those programs have helped SCCC's counselors to turn over accomplished, motivated students to four-year colleges for their next two years. "These highly qualified, hard working juniors become role models for the other students," McNally said.