An Interview with SGA President Barrett Houska, ’20
Hometown: Arnold, MO
High School: Seckman Senior High School in Imperial, MO
Majors: Biochemistry and Psychology
What led you to choose your majors?
In between my junior and senior year of high school, I volunteered at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. Specifically, I worked on the psychology floor with geriatric and adult patients. During the period I volunteered there, I went in once every week and did art therapy with the patients. There was a woman who was a patient there, and every time I came in to volunteer during art therapy she would ask to sit down and color a picture with me, but instead of focusing on coloring, we would talk about what her interpretation was of the picture. One day we were doing this, and we were looking at a picture with butterflies, she talked about who all the butterflies were in relation to her family members and how she was growing up as a child. All of a sudden, she started coloring the page, but she wasn’t coloring the butterflies, she was marking all over the page and explaining how her life had been so mentally cluttered growing up, which led her to where she was today. She then took me by the hands, looked me in the eyes, and told me that if she would have had someone to talk to as a child, she would not be where she was in that hospital. At that moment, I realized I wanted to work with children in the mental health field. Before that, I knew I wanted to work with kids after volunteering and helping teach kindergarten at an elementary school, which led me to decide that I wanted to pursue a degree in psychology. I also knew I was interested in the area of STEM. I enjoyed labs and research and specifically wanted to be in a hospital-based setting, which led me to think of being pre-med, now more specifically biochemistry.
Why did you decide to come to Westminster College, with all of the other options around your hometown and the St. Louis area?
I actually looked at 13 different schools. I applied and got accepted to all of them, which made my decision even more challenging. I honestly decided on Westminster because I stumbled across it. I didn’t know anything about it, which got my attention considering I knew a lot about all of the other schools I applied to. Once I stumbled across it, I learned all of the different connections that my family had to the College and Fulton in general. My mom and my aunt both attended the nearby William Woods University, and my grandpa used to always travel to Fulton, so they knew a lot about the town itself. From here, I was able to visit Westminster’s campus, and I really enjoyed the campus, the people and all of the interactions I had while I was there. Along with this experience, the College also held an event in St. Louis where I was able to meet the president at the time, along with Dr. Carolyn Perry, who said hello and was extremely nice. The next time I came to campus, Dr. Perry passed me as I was on my tour and said hi to me, remembering my name. This one-on-one interaction told me that Westminster was a place that was going to feel like home.
What makes Westminster special to you?
When I first started college at Westminster, I honestly had no idea what a liberal arts college was and truthfully at the time didn’t care to know more about it. Over the years, I have changed my perspective on this, as I have taken classes here in many different disciplines, in and out of my majors. Each of these classes has asked me to tie them all together, requiring me to think critically about everything, and this is something that is very unique to Westminster.
What are you involved in on campus?
I have been involved in so many different things on campus over my years here, but currently I am the student body president through the Student Government Association, contracts chair of Campus Activities Board, member of Student Foundation, member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, a resident advisor, a freshman mentor, a member of the Churchill Singers and a member of Psi Chi (the psychology honor society).
What are some of your hobbies and do you like to do in the free time that you do have?
I love hanging out with friends. This gives me some time to take a break from studying, and it has helped me feel more comfortable and adapted to college life. I also love everything from planning events, going on walks/runs, making and drinking coffee, watching Netflix, to being able to just sit and relax when I can.
How has Westminster helped you find your purpose?
If you would have asked me where I would be in three years my freshman year, I for sure would have not guessed I would be where I am right here right now. I have done so much in the years I have been at Westminster, and most of it spontaneously happened. When it came to making friends freshman year, I just walked up to Reagan DeCamp and said, “Hey, can I stand by you?” and we’ve been friends ever since. Freshman year I when I signed up to run for SGA, I did so because no one else’s name was on the list. At the time, I didn’t even think I wanted to be a part of the organization, and now I’m the president of the student body. That’s the beauty here at Westminster, though. You can be involved in as much or as little as you want to be, and you can be as passionate about it as you want. Westminster has pushed me to become as involved as possible, while at the same time staying as passionate as I can be about everything I am involved in.
How has Westminster led you to be the leader you are today?
Westminster has provided me with a lot of different opportunities to get involved — being a part of different groups, as well as even restructuring some of these groups. One of the biggest things that you can attribute with me being at Westminster is that I’ve been a part of many different groups and organizations during a time when they were struggling one way or another. Coming up with different strategies or ways in which to recreate the structure of those groups and implementing this new structure helped me become the leader I am today. Through this process, I worked alongside students, faculty, staff and even community members, which allowed me to feel more confident in who I am as well. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned about myself as a leader is how I work with others and the fact that I actually intimidated some of the people I worked with. Before being a leader at Westminster, I didn’t recognize that I did this in the first place or understand why this was happening. Over the years, I’ve had many people help me discover ways in which to combat this characteristic about myself, and through this, I have grown immensely as a leader. I don’t know if this would have happened if I had been somewhere other than Westminster.
What are your career and educational aspirations after graduation?
This question is a difficult one for me to answer, especially considering that my answer to it has changed every single year. Currently, I am not 100 percent certain in where I want to go, but I know that a goal of mine is to eventually go to graduate school and attain my Ph.D. in psychology so that I can become a licensed psychologist and work with children. This is my overall dream job. Before I can accomplish this though, I do want to take a year or two off and go right into the workforce, doing something along the lines of motivational speaking, going into a non-for-profit or doing something totally different, working for kids in need.