Dr. Scott Rinker joined AUC as Assistant Dean of Student Affairs this past September. His first month was a sink or swim experience: after going through the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, he watched from afar as Irma hit Sint Maarten and AUC students and faculty were evacuated from the island. Weeks later, he boarded a plane heading for Preston, UK.
Despite a wild start, Dr. Rinker’s experience, fortitude, and dedication have quickly catapulted him into a position of leadership with AUC students. And as the September semester draws to a close, he is preparing to follow first, second, and third semester students back to Sint Maarten for the January 2018 semester. It is a point in time that he sees as an important transition and one with endless possibilities.
For this issue of Clinical Connections, we sat down with Dr. Rinker to hear about his past and discuss his future plans for AUC’s Office of Student Affairs.
Q: How did you chart a career in wellness and counseling?
I took the old-fashioned route to figuring out what I wanted to do: I took courses in psychology during undergrad and worked the late shift at a psychiatric hospital near College Station, Texas. It was an incredibly gratifying experience because I was able to see—and study—people whose behaviors and actions we consider abnormal. I learned how they deal with stress differently, how they are motivated to make choices, and what they truly need to make changes in their behaviors. That experience cemented my decision to study psychology and ultimately led me to doctorate in clinical psychology. From there I got my professional counseling license and began seeing patients.
Q: What prompted you to pursue higher education and student affairs?
I took an offer to be a wellness counselor at New Mexico State University, which opened the door for my next position at Houston Community College (HCC). It was important for me to continue seeing patients so I opened up a private practice while at HCC. I had a full workload [laughing]—that was before I had kids! I kept my practice open for four years before I closed it down to focus on HCC.
I eventually moved into student affairs at HCC and was most recently their director of student development and student affairs. My focus was on student support and advising but I was involved in operations, conduct and compliance, student life—even sports. It was the perfect marriage of working directly with students and being a part of the administrative process.
Q: What were some of your biggest accomplishments at HCC?
I helped establish a case managed advising program that increased our retention by two full percentage points. It’s been a point of pride because we were able to connect struggling students with academic support, which allowed them to continue their studies. I hope to do something similar at AUC.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in your position with AUC?
I’ve worked at institutions that have upwards of 100,000 students. What’s great about working at a smaller school like AUC is the speed at which you can get things done—the process can be much more agile and fluid. There’s also more interaction between the administration and the students, and that makes it easier to get to know students on a more personal, individual level. That’s why I got into counseling in the first place—I really like that direct contact with people.
For me, it’s going to be important to maintain AUC’s mission to help students succeed as medical students so that they can become great physicians.
Q: What was it like to start with AUC during our recovery from Hurricane Irma?
My first day with AUC was supposed to be September 11. Two weeks prior, we had gone through Hurricane Harvey and I remember watching the news and seeing Irma grow stronger and stronger. I knew it wasn’t going to be a good situation.
That was a really difficult position. I wanted to help but I couldn’t do anything until AUC was ready and in a position to receive it. When you are a psychotherapist, you learn quickly that you have to wait for people to ask for help in a crisis. So I waited to see when and where the school would mobilize and then I tried my best to jump in and be a support.
It turns out that meant traveling to Kern Medical Center in Bakersfield, California, where a Ross University student passed away. AUC has several clinical students at Kern so I went there to be available and provide support.
Since then I’ve joined the team in Preston, UK. I’ve had an opportunity to meet a lot of our medical sciences students, which I’ve greatly enjoyed.
Q: What advice do you have for students as we move past Irma?
We are all defined by our experiences and opportunities, and very few people have the unique experience that you just went through.
I would encourage students to think about how these past few months—though challenging—can also have a positive impact. How can this experience shape your future relationships? How does it contribute to your professional identity? What did you learn about how you handle crisis and critical incidents?
Reflecting is a great opportunity to become aware of yourself, your behaviors, and your choices.
Q: Is there anything else you want to share about yourself?
I grew up in a medical household so I feel an automatic connection to AUC. My father was an occupational physician who worked with corporations around Houston. He, like many of our students, took a non-traditional path to medicine and was the first in his family to graduate college.
It’s a great thing to be able to give to the world. I look forward to helping AUC students learn how to bounce back after a tough experience—academically, emotionally, or other—and use those tools as physicians.