Jacob Dancer, AB '89, AM '04
As the program supervisor of UCAN’s 360° Model and HomeWorks initiatives, Jacob Dancer III, A.B. ’89, A.M. ’04, is responsible for two programs designed to help address socio-emotional needs of students, including managing psychotherapists and clinical interns and working with the schools.
An agency devoted to the empowerment, education and healing of youth and families who have suffered from trauma, abuse or neglect, UCAN began HomeWorks nearly 20 years ago. The program provides a continuum of services to families that have a student at risk of truancy, dropout or expulsion to help support the student’s success.
For the 360° Model program, which began at the start of the school year in 2009, UCAN clinicians work in six Chicago public schools, offering therapy, mentoring groups and other services to recognize the impact of violence and trauma for students. The program began with three schools run in collaboration with AUSL, the Academy for Urban School Leadership, and added three more schools this year, including two through the Office of Turnaround Schools of Chicago Public Schools.
In addition to managing the programs, Jacob provides in-home services for families of students at risk of dropout or expulsion due to truancy for HomeWorks and individual therapy for youth with histories of trauma, violence and loss at schools for the 360° Model.
“Trauma is a barrier to academic success. The program is an opportunity to create a shift in the schools, to help teachers recognize that some of the students sitting in front of them are also survivors of traumatic events,” he says.
Jacob built his career one step at a time, as he considered where he wanted to be and how to get there. But his introduction to counseling those in need came out of the blue. He began at the University of Chicago as an undergrad with the intention of earning a B.A. in mathematics. But as he struggled to imagine a lifetime working in high tech, an academic counselor asked him simply, “What is it you like to do?”
“I realized I liked to help people with their problems. I was the one who my friends turned to when they wanted to talk through a difficult time,” he recalls. “I took a psychology class, liked it, and it became my major.”
Soon after graduation, Jacob began working with mentally ill and developmentally delayed young adults at several Chicago-area social service agencies. An opportunity arose to counsel emotionally disturbed and behavior disordered juvenile sex offenders with UCAN (then known as the Uhlich Children’s Home), and he began working with that population, a move that led him to SSA.
“I knew I wanted to be a therapist and work with sex abuse victims and perpetrators,” says Jacob, who went through SSA’s evening program while still serving as a full-time residential program operations assistant at UCAN. “I shaped my courses toward that goal, and I think that really helped me get so much out of my time at the School.”
Jacob cites a number of courses and faculty members that had a big impact on him at SSA, including the passion and dedication of Associate Professor Waldo Johnson, Jr., the research of SSA’s Helen Ross Professor Emerita Sharon Berlin, and the coursework of lecturer Mary Jo Barrett. He also met his wife, Laura “Lo” Patrick, AM ’98, who is a social worker at the University of Chicago’s Donoghue Charter School, while she was a student at SSA prior to becoming a student at SSA himself.
As an SSA graduate, Jacob became a psychotherapist at UCAN, adding more and more responsibilities over the last few years. He served as a clinician for both the 360° Model and HomeWorks programs before being named program supervisor in July. “It requires a lot of work,” he admits. “I say if you’re not overwhelmed, you must not be doing something right.”
He also has kept in close contact with his alma mater, serving on the board of the Alumni Association, where he’s on both the African American Alumni Committee and the Networking and Professional Development committee. “SSA is in the fabric of me. When I’m back, I’m surrounded by alumni, and I feel connected,” he says.
Jacob has spoken to first-year students as part of their orientation to the School, and for the last three years, he has been a field instructor at UCAN. He says he enjoys assisting the next generation of students learn about what they want to do with their career and how SSA can help them as much as it helped him.
“I love what I do,” he says. “I’m tremendously excited about my work, and that’s how I start every day.”