Student Spotlight: Annie Happel

Even before she was pursuing a degree in counseling psychology, Annie Happel was interested in talking to people about their lives. "I often found that while meeting with clients, I was more interested in learning about their personal lives than their projects," she says.

As a first-year daytime student in the Wright Institute Counseling Psychology Program, Happel is still sorting through what she wants her career in psychology to be. Due to in-person classes being moved online as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, she has yet to attend a class at the Dwight Way campus. Despite attending all classes so far from her apartment, Happel has jumped into her career change headfirst.

Before deciding to apply to graduate school, Happel had a successful career in marketing and public relations, with a focus on restaurant PR. Alongside her business partner, she ran a small firm, Magnum PR. "Our clients were mostly restaurants around San Francisco, along with some in the East Bay," Happel says. "I loved it - it was such a blast." Before running Magnum, she was on the marketing team at OpenTable, an online restaurant reservation service.

Happel found her way into the food industry after graduating from college, when she moved to San Francisco and started working as an intern at OpenTable, at the time a small start-up. "A few years later, I was living in New York City, and was feeling very burned out. I just wasn't very interested in my job at all. I realized I had to do something different," she says. Happel left her job and headed off to work on farms in Spain and France through Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF). "It was a wonderful, magical experience," she reflects.

"I had always been interested in both writing and cooking," Happel recalls, "and I found an opportunity that allowed me to fuse those two passions." A few days before she left New York to work on her first farm in Southern Spain, Happel also started a food blog called Happelsauce.

"[Happelsauce] began as a means to keep up with family and friends," explains Happel. "It turned into a recipe, travel, and adventure blog that I kept up for almost a decade." She has since retired Happelsauce, but has recently started writing on her newest creative outlet, Happeltree. Recently, one of her essays was featured in Lindsay Gardner's book Why We Cook, a compilation of essays, interviews, and recipes from 112 women in food.

"As much as I love food, and I love restaurants, I think I like that world as a hobby more so than as a career," says Happel. With the birth of her first daughter, Happel found herself wanting to connect with people in a way that she hadn't been able to through work so far. "I'd found a lot of my own therapy to be really beneficial, and it was something I was interested in pursuing. But I never thought I could pull it off."

"It took me a few years to get here, but eventually, I thought, 'why not me?'" she recounts. Happel connected with her sister's good friend Olivia Sinaiko, a 2019 graduate of the Counseling Psychology Program, who had very positive things to say about her experience at the Wright. From that point, it didn't take long for her to apply and be accepted to the program. "It felt like the stars were aligned for me to pursue my degree here," she says.

Despite her turn towards the counseling profession, Happel is still very much involved in the restaurant world. Her partner is a chef and restaurateur who is co-owner of four restaurants in San Francisco. They live with their two daughters, Lucie and Hannah, and their dog, Eloise, above one of their restaurants in the Mission District.

After being accepted into the Counseling Psychology Program for the fall 2020 term, Happel had to face the reality that she would not be able to attend classes in person for the foreseeable future. In March 2020, the Counseling Psychology Program moved its classes online, where they have been held since. Happel had her doubts about whether or not she wanted to take classes online, but continued on.

"I did my due diligence leading up to this year, and spoke with students who had been in the program both before and after the switch to online learning," says Happel. "I was happy to hear from them that they were still receiving a great education through online learning." The feedback from current students helped to convince Happel that attending in the fall was the right decision.

"Being in school this past year has been my saving grace," says Happel. "The prospect of this new career is so fascinating, and it's helped me get out of the little pandemic bubble that I've been living in for over the past year. It's so important for me to challenge myself, and to use my brain in new ways." Happel has found a strong connection with her cohort-mates, and the group has gotten the chance to meet up a few times in person at various outdoor venues over the past several months. "They're an amazing group of people," she says. "I am really loving school in a way that I couldn't have anticipated."

Though online classes have been a great way to substitute for in-person learning, Happel is very much looking forward to being in the classroom. "Not having a commute has been nice, but I can't wait to be in the same room with my cohort-mates and my professors," she says. "That should allow the class discussions to flow more naturally. You can't overstate the value of having another person's energy in the room with you. I'm really looking forward to capturing that feeling," she says.

In the fall, Happel will get to begin her clinical experience with a practicum placement at San Francisco Unified School District. She'll be at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, working with high school students. "I'm excited to work with adolescents because it is such a pivotal time in a person's development. At that age, everything feels big and you're trying to figure out who you are," she says. "I absolutely could have benefited from meeting with a good counselor in high school, and I hope to provide these students with that resource."

Some of the classes she has taken, such as Family Therapy and Child and Adolescent Counseling, have been particularly enjoyable for this reason. "My grad school education at the Wright Institute has invariably made me a better, more conscious parent," she says.

As she gains more clinical experience and moves forward in her career, Happel will be able to continue to apply some of the skills she gained during her years in the communications field. "When I'd talk to a restaurant client in the past, I'd make assessments about the situations they were in, listen, and empathize with their situation," she says. "That's closely related to what I'll be doing as a therapist."

While she's still a few months away from starting that clinical experience, Happel is well equipped to face the challenges that lie ahead. Over the past year, she's faced down a few, and thrived along the way." This past year has been one of the most challenging years of my entire life - raising two young kids, starting grad school and owning restaurants during a pandemic is no joke," says Annie Happel. "I am so grateful to have had my education at the Wright Institute to buoy me and provide me with a sense of optimism for the future."

Click here to learn more about the Wright Institute's Master of Counseling Psychology program.
Click here to learn more about the Wright Institute's Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program.