students in lounge
Photo of Claire in a hoodie with hands in pocket standing against hilly background. Has overlay that reads, "alumni spotlight".

This week we are catching up with class of 2021 alum Claire Buckholz. Claire majored in Youth & Social Innovation in the School of Education and Human Development while also double majoring in psychology.As soon as she arrived on grounds in 2017, Claire became involved in YWLP as a Big Sister. Her second year she worked as a facilitator, and then transitioned to work as an intern for the program her third year, focusing on more of the behind-the-scenes work. During her 4th year, she took over as the program’s senior intern. Since her graduation, Claire has continued her work with children and now works as a Transitions/Living Skills teacher at Star Academy in San Rafael, CA. The Star Academy serves students with learning differences across the Bay Area. She works with high school students and help prepare them for success in their post-high school endeavors.

Tell us about the path you’ve taken to where you are now in your career. Has it been planned? Organic? Some of both? 

My path has been pretty organic since graduating from UVa. I knew that I wanted to work with youth in some capacity, but I wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. My sights had originally been set on doing the Peace Corps after graduating, but applications were temporarily closed because of the pandemic. I had known a handful of people who had done Teach for America and decided to apply, thinking that it would be a great way to get classroom experience and step out of my comfort zone and move somewhere new for a few years. I was placed at a public high school in downtown San Jose, teaching English and Social Cognition in a Special Day Class (SDC) setting. Although my educational background and experiences working with youth were helpful in preparing me for this role, my first year of teaching was a steep learning curve. When I relocated to San Francisco the following year, I knew that I wanted to continue working in a school environment for at least a few more years to continue building my skills in that area. However, I wanted to shift my focus from teaching a core content area to a role that would allow me to support students in developing more tangible, relational skills. I was interested in finding a position that would enable me to apply the skills and knowledge I had gained through my psychology coursework, as I have always been interested in pursuing therapy-related work. During job searching, I discovered Star Academy, a small non-public school serving students with learning differences. I am currently the Transitions/Living Skills teacher for the high school, and in this role, I am responsible for working with students to prepare them for their post-high school pathways. We work on self-exploration, such as identifying strengths and challenges, college and career readiness, and daily living skills, such as cooking and budgeting. Since the school is much smaller, it has allowed me to work with students in smaller settings and deepen my relationships with them, with the hope they will graduate feeling confident in the plan we have outlined for them.

What opportunity, decision or mentor has most shaped your career?

My involvement with the Young Women Leaders Program (YWLP) had a significant influence on the path that I have pursued since graduating from UVa. YWLP introduced me to a community of strong, positive women whom I really looked up to and leaned on for support as I figured out what career pathway I wanted to pursue after graduating. Sarah Jenkins, the mentoring coordinator for YWLP, was and continues to be one of my biggest supporters. I first met Sarah when I joined the program as a Big Sister in my first year of college. During that time,I leaned on her a lot as I navigated the complexities of trying to foster a meaningful relationship with a middle school girl. In my second year, I was a facilitator for a group of Big Sisters and their seventh grade “Littles''. Sarah and one of the other YWLP staff members co-teach a course for YWLP facilitators to support them in effectively leading a group of mentees and mentors, and I was able to work closely with Sarah through this experience to problem-solve various challenges as they arose and to define my leadership style. In my third and fourth years, I worked as an intern YWLP through the Women’s Center, and it was in this position I got to work closely with Sarah and learn from her. One of the things that I admire about Sarah is the genuine care and acceptance that she shows others. Whenever Sarah and I met to discuss YWLP-related matters, we always spent the first chunk of our meetings checking in about other aspects of our lives. Sarah was always incredibly intentional about making sure that everything was okay regarding my academic and personal life, and she always made me feel like a valued member of the YWLP team. I have tried to adopt this same approach to the people with whom I work, acknowledging that a person has so much going on outside of their job and that they won’t be able to feel fulfilled in their work if the other aspects of their lives aren’t in balance. Cultivating positive, healthy relationships with the people we are surrounded by is necessary to feel comfortable and confident in our work, and I am grateful to Sarah for teaching me that.

What’s something you learned in school/college that turned out to be useful later, in some way you didn’t expect?

As an undergrad, I worked in the TeachSim Lab within the UVa School of Education and Human Development, which designs interventions to support preservice teachers in developing the skills and knowledge necessary to feel prepared when they enter the classroom. I was a research assistant for the lab during my second and third years and was the lead coder for a project during my fourth year. One of the projects I worked closely on studied behavior management approaches of teacher candidates through mixed reality simulations that allowed them to practice different strategies on student avatars. I was responsible for scoring the candidates’ performances in the simulation based on a predetermined set of criteria. Although I really enjoyed the work I was doing then, I didn't intend to pursue a career in teaching after graduating. However, one thing led to another, and I ended up in an incredibly challenging teaching position that I love doing every day. My entire approach to behavior management in the classroom derives from the knowledge I gained while working on this project, even down to the specific phrasing I use when redirecting student behavior. The work being done in the TeachSim Lab is groundbreaking. It provides opportunities for preservice to rehearse different approaches to behavior management, which is by far the most challenging part of teaching, without the fear of negatively impacting an actual student. Little did I know that the hours I spent coding simulation videos and collaborating with other research team members would benefit me so much when I started my career. I feel incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to be part of this project and to have worked closely with the faculty who ran the lab and who are experts in their field.

How do you practice work/life fit?

One thing that helps me maintain my sense of balance and calm is running. I have been an avid runner since I was a kid, and I always make time in my schedule for a run, regardless of how hectic my schedule can get sometimes. Running helps me unwind after work and reflect on my day. It is also a great way to get fresh air and a sense of zen after working in a lively school environment all day. I’m fortunate to work in Marin County, which has many beautiful trails that have been fun to explore and live close to Golden Gate Park, my absolute favorite place to run.

How did you get involved with YWLP/interning at the Women’s Center?

Before starting at UVa, I had heard about YWLP through one of my older sister’s friends who had been a Big Sister for the program. I sought out the Women's Center booth at the activities fair during my first week of school. I inquired about joining the program, ecstatic about the opportunity to connect with youth within the Charlottesville community. Much to my dismay, the program was not open to first-year students. However, a week later, I received a phone call informing me that they had a last-minute opening and asked if I would be interested in being a Big Sister. I immediately accepted the offer, and the rest is history. One thing I really appreciate about YWLP is the opportunity they provide undergraduate students to strengthen their collaboration and leadership skills and grow within the program. When my Little Sister, who was in eighth grade, graduated from the program at the end of my year as a Big Sister, I expressed interest in applying for a position as a Facilitator, which is not typically open to second-year students. To my surprise, I was accepted to the position and proceeded to lead a group of Big Sisters and their seventh-grade Littles, which was an experience that I am grateful for, as it helped me develop my leadership skills. In my third year, I was a Women’s Center intern for the YWLP team, which allowed me to work closely in supporting the Big Sisters and to understand the program from a new perspective. When I was a fourth year, I became the team's senior intern and further honed my leadership skills as I led the team of YWLP interns and worked closely with Sarah Jenkins to coordinate logistics for the program.

What is your favorite UVA memory?

My time at UVa is full of wonderful memories, and it is hard to pinpoint one as my favorite. Still, the summers I spent in Charlottesville are periods in my life that I look back very fondly on. A “Cville summer” is so lovely because you explore Charlottesville more in-depth and spend quality time with the people you’re around. Charlottesville is home to some of the best food in the world (in my humble opinion) and is a quick drive from the Blue Ridge Mountains, which has incredible hiking and scenic routes for long drives. UVa’s campus and the Charlottesville community often felt like a giant playground with fewer students around. I have so many wonderful memories of going to the downtown farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, spending the afternoons swimming in the Rivanna, soaking up the sunshine and having picnics on a not-so-crowded lawn, movie nights on the projector behind the house I was living in with all of my best friends, home-cooked meals on our front porch that turned into long, endless nights, and nighttime walks in the warm summer air to reminisce on the day’s adventures.