PhD ’10, Counseling/School Psychology
A love for Western New York motivated Rebecca Vujnovic (PhD ’10, Counseling/School Psychology) to discover different ways to positively impact the community. Her most recent project concerns graduate students’ involvement with kindergarten screening in the Williamsville Central School District. Her graduate students are placed in different pre-schools, so they can obtain field experience with three- to four-year old children. The graduate students are required to test and observe the skill level of children to see if they are developmentally ready to start kindergarten.
“It was always typical for our second-year students to work in a practicum, but I wanted to figure out how we can get our first-year students in the field right away, so this collaboration with the Williamsville Central School District has been incredible,” Vujnovic said. “Kindergarten screening is a great way to familiarize children with a new school and it is a fantastic opportunity for graduate students to get involved in this process.”
Born and raised in Western New York, Buffalo has been home to Vujnovic her entire life. “I am just super committed to being in the Buffalo area, and I love it so much, so I keep on staying here.” She received a BA in psychology from UB. During her bachelor’s degree, she realized how much she loved working with children after taking a few courses related to education. After this realization, she obtained her MA in school psychology. While working on her master’s degree, Vujnovic thoroughly enjoyed the research she was doing, so she acquired a PhD in the combined counseling psychology and school psychology program in the Graduate School of Education.
Currently, Vujnovic is the director of the master’s degree advanced certificate program in school psychology at UB and a clinical assistant professor. “Giving our students the most valuable learning experiences is the most significant aspect for me as the director,” Vujnovic said. “One of the things I always found to be true is the benefit of hands-on experience beyond just working in the classroom.”
Vujnovic credits Gregory Fabiano, professor from the Department of Counseling, School and Educational Psychology, for much of her success as a student in GSE. “Mentors like Fabiano took me under their wing when I was a student, and they have become great colleagues because I now work with most of them,” Vujnovic said. “They taught me to take risks because it is okay to be uncomfortable sometimes and that is how you grow.” She emphasizes that students do not grow from accomplishing the same tasks repeatedly; they must learn everything is not always going to have the same result, but those results are how you learn, and do something different the next time.
GSE taught Vujnovic to learn self-reflection, and she emphasizes that students must reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses every day to learn. “I am passionate about my position and I can’t imagine myself doing anything else,” Vujnovic said. “However, I also feel like I need to change, evolve, learn, progress and grow, so I constantly seek feedback from my peers and students.”
When she is not helping students grow in the classroom, Vujnovic serves as a role model for her own three children at home. “Being a mom has helped me become a better educator,” Vujnovic said. “My students are very much like my own kids in some ways and I strive to balance support for them and pushing them to make different decisions or take jumps on their own.”
UB is Vujnovic’s comfort zone and hopes she can be there forever, as she would love to continue her work and collaborate with her community partners. She desires to help students grow, learn and apply things that are meaningful, so they can make active contributions. Her advice for students who aspire to become teachers is to be passionate about what you want to do and have an open mind to new experiences.
“I did not start my journey at UB with the intention of becoming an educator and working at the collegiate level,” Vujnovic said. “My goal was to become a physical therapist, but my experiences lead me to become a teacher and work with kids and I love it.”