Grad student award winner finds his calling
After 20 successful years in the corporate world, Joshua Gerstner decided to hit the reset button.
Dissatisfied with corporate culture, Gerstner took a temporary job in 2021 and enrolled in Lakeland University’s master of arts in counseling program.
“I want my energy to go into a career that has a positive impact on people, not profit margins,” said Gerstner, whose goal is to become a licensed therapist for the state of Wisconsin.
Gerstner, who is on track to graduate in the summer of 2024, has been named the annual winner of Lakeland’s Outstanding Kellett Graduate Student Award.
Nominees must complete at least 15 credits of graduate work at Lakeland with a cumulative GPA of at least 3.5 and meet the following:
Gerstner, who lives in Spring Green, Wis., and takes courses through Lakeland’s Madison Center, said what was valued and what he brought to the workplace were not connecting.
“I started becoming bitter and jaded because my soft skills were not valued for the industries that I worked in,” said Gerstner, who has a bachelor’s in animal science and has worked in food safety, employee training, sales, marketing and information technology. “I returned to a less stressful position with a different company and have been focusing on myself and studying more than I ever have.
“In returning to academia, I have felt for the first time in many years that I am able to be genuine and authentic. I bring that to the classroom and as I continue to learn and grow, I bring it back to my community.”
The road to a degree has come with challenges. Last fall, while he was enrolled in three courses for the semester and working full time, his wife had some health issues that required him to care for her. One of those classes was Group Therapy, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“It was both a wonderful learning experience with (instructor) Shaun O’Keefe and also cathartic in being able to manage my own stress and life balance,” Gerstner said. “Honestly, I looked forward to attending Group Therapy class every week. I could take a small reprieve from life for a moment and focus on learning and helping my classmates while the group session was held.
“In hindsight, I would not change how life unfolded during that semester. Group Therapy was truly wonderful, and it was amazing watching others grow and evolve.”
A peer who nominated Gerstner for the award cited the way he rallies to help others in his classes.
“He wants to see everyone do their best,” the nomination said. “To help them achieve it, he models pushing for your personal best, provides a safe space for other students to share, is quick to share resources he has found and is always there when you need a gentle ‘you can do it.’
“Josh went into counseling partially because he has the skills and disposition for it, and partially because it called to him.”
Gerstner openly shares his personal situations as part of classroom discussions. One of his children is transgender, and he’s shared his experiences as a father with his peers.
“Through this sharing, I am watching my peers become more self-aware or understand a topic to a greater degree because of questions I have asked or experiences they may have been unaware of,” Gerstner said.
While becoming a licensed therapist is a short-term goal, long term Gerstner said he has considered starting his own clinic.
“I am humbled and grateful to be a part of the Lakeland program,” he said. “This journey has reshaped my life and I very much look forward to continuing this path. I get to be ‘Me,’ and that resonates with my peers and professors. It brings me joy and it humbles me all at the same time.”