When Kat Pastor visited a local school to talk with students about Northern Arizona University, it started her on a path toward a gratifying career and professional recognition that will take her to the White House.

Pastor was asked to make a college presentation at Flagstaff High School while working in NAU’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid in 2005. After the presentation, FHS staff members suggested she apply for a job as a school counselor. At the advice of a faculty mentor, Pastor applied and was offered the position.

With an undergraduate degree in psychology, a master of education in student affairs and experience working in several NAU departments, Pastor had a varied skill set suited to help high school students learn about their educational options. Since moving to Flag High, she has added a graduate certificate in school psychology to her repertoire.

“I love my job and there is no prescribed day,” said Pastor, who describes herself as passionate about providing education on academics, careers, college readiness and basic coping skills.

Back in October, the 2015 National School Counselor of the Year notified Pastor she was one of six finalists for the 2016 title. This week she learned the American School Counselor Association chose her as the 2016 National School Counselor of the Year.

Pastor said her time at NAU was excellent preparation for the job of school counselor. “My jobs gave me a perspective that a lot of school counselors don’t have and now I help students learn about financial aid, admissions, housing and all those things high school students need to know.”

Gene Moan, Heidi Wayment, Molly Munger and Tom DeStefano were several of Pastor’s mentors at NAU, and she credits them for her well-rounded education.

“Kat Pastor’s selection as the National School Counselor of the Year award is a strong indicator of the quality of our school counseling program,” said Moan, a professor of educational psychology. “In keeping with NAU’s mission of providing high quality graduate programs, the school counseling program trains top notch professionals to serve the needs of high school students, particularly those from ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups.”

Moan said students in the department are expected to be involved with professional organizations at the state and national levels to maintain awareness of evolving trends in school counseling.

When Pastor has an audience with first lady Michelle Obama, she said she has two things she’d like to address: creating equal access to school counselors across the country and increasing awareness of the importance of school counseling. “Teachers are here to teach and we are here to help students grow into productive citizens, to make this a better world.” After sharing her ideas with Obama next month, Pastor said she would like to give the first lady a hug.

Pastor created this video for the National School Counselor of the Year judges.