Jamie Frank-O’Connell ‘91 is the Director of Counseling at Palmetto Scholars Academy, a school for gifted students in South Carolina. Many of the students she counsels are considered “twice exceptional” meaning they are gifted academically plus they have additional considerations such as Attention Deficit Disorder or anxiety.
Frank-O’Connell has compassion for kids who struggle or who’ve been dealt an unfair hand. Her training — master’s degrees in clinical psychology and school counseling — taught her methods to help these students cope. But she brings additional insight.
Frank-O’Connell had a rough childhood herself. As a result she didn’t have a successful high school career. She was one of 4,000 kids in her high school and remembers, “nobody was keeping track of me.”
I Realized I Was Capable
Today, she recognizes she probably would have been identified as a gifted student. Her home life was stressful and she dealt with a number of risk factors which left her thinking something was wrong with her.
“I thought I was stupid,” she says, “but when I got into Western I realized I was capable.”
Despite a lack of support from her family Frank-O’Connell was determined to go to college. She recalls talking to Western’s then dean of students who helped arrange a financial aid package that made it possible for her to attend her freshman year. She worked hard, even taking on a graveyard shift at a nursing home, to make ends meet.
Frank-O’Connell entered college without a lot of confidence. What she needed most was for people to acknowledge her and be patient with her. And that is what she found at Western and in the community of Gunnison. While she was determined to do well, she didn’t enter college with the academic skill set necessary for success and her experience at Western was rocky initially. But she remembers feeling embraced by the faculty, and credits Western and the Gunnison community for giving her the space and security necessary to thrive as a student.
“I just needed a chance to be successful,” says Frank-O’Connell.
A small school environment where people knew her by name and noticed if she was in class made the difference in her progress. She worked hard, recouped some of what she didn’t get during her high school career, and eventually blossomed academically and socially.
Frank-O’Connell always knew she wanted to be a counselor or a lawyer. She declared a psychology major and studied pre-law early on.
“I made plenty of mistakes. I had to learn to write academically, how to argue a point,” she says. “But I was so excited to be at Western.”
Socially, her world expanded as well. It was the first time she had interacted with kids with affluence. She was exposed to different lifestyles and met students from across the country.
“I became myself there,” she says.
Eventually she decided psychology, not law, was her path. She earned her two master’s degrees before she left Colorado. Today she marvels at the change in herself in that short amount of time.
“[Growing-up] I never would’ve believed that I’d have the confidence to enter a graduate program and come out of it with honors,” says Frank O’Connell. “I worked hard but it still seems like a miracle.”
Frank-O’Connell credits her life in Gunnison for giving her a strong foundation.
“The people there were real. No one judged me. The people in Gunnison accepted and loved me and gave me the permission to do the same thing,” says Frank-O’Connell. “And from there I continued to grow. Now I’m living a pretty awesome life.”
Author Credit: Liz Renner
Photo Credit: “Courtesy of Jamie Frank-O’Connell” -1 Nicole Watford Photography 2019- 20