As a clinical case manager at the Brandon School and Residential Treatment Center in Natick, Massachusetts, Boston College student Colin Droney routinely counseled young boys in crisis who would rather be anywhere but there.
Droney said the experience taught him how to roll with resistance and assert himself as a clinician—two skills that come in handy while he’s coaching his peers at BC to improve their health and wellness.
“I got much better at sitting in silence with clients and being more assertive,” said Droney, who is pursuing the BA/MSW dual degree program at BC. “I’ve traditionally been a little more passive, but I learned that if I need to be a little more assertive and I’m being passive, I’m doing a disservice to the student or client sitting in front of me.”
Droney’s work as a wellness coach at the BC Center for Student Wellness has earned him a 2023 Ever to Excel Award from the Division of Student Affairs, which recognizes 17 members of the BC community every year for excellence in leadership and service at the University.
Droney, BA ’23, MSW ’24, received the Brian D.A. Hall Legacy Award, which goes to “the senior who demonstrated deep commitment to a student program or organization, and whose leadership advanced the mission of the organization and enhanced the quality of student life.”
As a wellness coach, Droney helps students develop strategies and personal goals to improve healthy behaviors. He puts their strengths, rather than their problems, at the center of the helping process, a technique that social workers use to enable clients to see themselves at their best.
Let’s say Droney is working with a student who is struggling to manage stress. He would ask the student to recall a time when stress wasn’t a problem, focusing on the behaviors and choices that led to tranquility, and then formulate a plan to recreate the conditions under which life was a little bit better.
“We ask them to think back to a time when they were satisfied with how they were managing their stress and call that the exception. And then we amplify the exception by asking questions that bring that memory back to the surface—‘Who were you seeing? What did your social relationships look like?’” Droney said. “Then we discuss that memory, extract the strengths that were working for them before, and see how we can reapply them to the present moment.”
Droney often works with students in recovery, connecting them to campus resources that support their journey to wellness. He also helps students develop more positive relationships with food and improve their time management, focusing on making space for self-care.
“I got much better at sitting in silence with clients and being more assertive. I’ve traditionally been a little more passive, but I learned that if I need to be a little more assertive and I’m being passive, I’m doing a disservice to the student or client sitting in front of me.”
Jeannine Kremer, the director of the Center for Student Wellness, described Droney as a “warm,” “open,” and “self-reflective student” with an innate ability to “make instant connections with others.”
“Colin exemplifies the Ignatian spirit of men and women for others each and every day,” Kremer, who graduated from BCSSW’s master’s program in 1995, wrote in a letter nominating Droney for the Legacy Award. “He continues to make meaningful connections and be vulnerable with others to allow them the space to be real and talk about real things like mental health and relationships.”
Droney credited Kremer with helping him choose to get a master’s in social work. He said he made a plan in high school to become a licensed mental health counselor, with the career goal of providing individual therapy. But then he enrolled in the psychology program at BC in 2018, met Kremer in 2020, and learned how an MSW could give him the skills to expand his ability to help people.
“She told me that I could do everything that I wanted to do with a degree in social work, but I could also do more than that if I ever wanted to change it up,” recalled Droney, now a clinical student on the mental health track. “I could go work with communities or organizations instead of doing individual therapy. So it seemed like a better option for me just because I could do more.”
Droney routinely applies what he has learned in his social work courses to his job as a wellness coach, which he started nearly three years ago. He said Human Behavior and the Social Environment expanded his understanding of the strength-based perspective, teaching him that the approach informs all his casework and “lurks behind every social work intervention.” Part-time faculty member Amanda Connolly Benitez introduced him to a simple phrase that has profoundly impacted his ability to connect with students: “Tell me more.”
“I can use that whenever somebody says something and I need a little more information,” Droney said. “I’ll be like, ‘Oh, tell me more.’ It shows curiosity. I’m also continuing to build rapport.”
Droney encouraged new students to join clubs and find mentors, fitting advice for a campus leader who sees the value in building rapport with his peers and colleagues. He acknowledged that he was surprised to win the Legacy Award and said he would not have received the honor without the support of his mentor, Kremer, who has made him feel like an integral part of the Center for Student Wellness.
“Being a part of that community has enabled me to help other students, try to get out of myself a little bit, and contribute to the betterment of BC overall,” he said. “If I didn’t have such a warm relationship with her, then I don’t think I would have been as motivated to give my all to this community and the people in it.”