A “Stark” difference to career approach
As a boy, Steven Starks remembers his mother Sylvia struggling to balance a full-time job and being a single parent as she pursued medical assistant certificate courses. Despite the challenges, she persisted to provide a better life for her twin sons and show them — not just tell them — the difference an education could make for their futures. Her commitment to education left an indelible mark on Starks, motivating him to be the first in his family to pursue multiple college degrees.
Watching his mother succeed in her educational journey inspired him to pursue his own. It would take him down a path of discovery about himself and his career and ultimately lead him to become senior manager of career counseling programs and operations at University of Phoenix. Now, Starks offers guidance to others looking for fulfilling careers.
He said he sees the same grit in the University’s working adult student population to complete their journey that he saw in his mother all those years ago.
“Not everyone believes in the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” Starks said. “Life experiences sometimes quiet those dreams, but University of Phoenix students have decided they are going to change their lives through education.”
Starting his journey
Starks’ education journey began when he and his brother Robert were in eighth grade. His mother helped them secure scholarships to a preparatory school in Phoenix — a unique opportunity for students who excelled academically but were part of at-risk populations.
Starks said the school was rigorous and solidified his desire to go to college.
When he began his undergraduate coursework, Starks immediately gravitated toward the social sciences. He wanted to work directly with people to help them create change or balance in their lives. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Sociology and took a position right after graduation as a case manager for 60 adults with severe mental health issues.
After four years, Starks found himself burned out and unsatisfied. He felt so depleted that he decided it was time for a reset. At the age of 27, he quit his job, cashed out his 401(k) and set out to backpack across parts of Latin America for a year.
His travels took him through Mexico, Peru, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. Sometimes he traveled alone. Sometimes friends or his twin brother joined him.
As he met other travelers along the way, Starks realized he often assumed a leadership role, bringing others together, despite obstacles like language barriers.
Starks realized he had a personal strength connecting with others.
“I learned I can make friends with anyone,” he said. “I was the glue that kept everyone connected.”
When he returned to the States, he was hired as an academic counselor at University of Phoenix. He felt drawn to the opportunity to guide others to a more fulfilling path.
Finding his footing
As he embarked on his new position, Starks was still interested in the mental health aspects of his undergraduate studies and felt a deeper understanding of the discipline would benefit his work.
He earned a Master of Science in Psychology from University of Phoenix in 2011 and went on to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling at another university the following year.
Soon after, a career advising position became available at UOPX. The job combined all his professional strengths and interests: helping others achieve success through education, connecting people to resources and serving in a leadership capacity. He applied and was hired.
Starks went on to earn national certified counselor credentials and became an independent contractor for The Muse to provide career advice and coaching through their platform. He continues in both roles today.
Reaching the destination
Robert said his brother fits the career advising role perfectly. He describes Starks as a good listener, curious and genuinely interested in people.
He said his twin finds a way to motivate others without being confrontational or overwhelming, yet he is humble and unassuming in his daily life.
“My brother does not like a spotlight, but he has influence and tends to be the person others go to for his opinion,” Robert said. “They know when they ask for it, it’s going to be thoughtful, helpful, useful and intentional.”
Starks said he is glad his journey to finding a fulfilling career was full of twists, turns and adventures. Like the students he serves, he brings life and professional experiences with him to the table.
In the end, he feels fortunate to get to know students on a personal level and play a part in their career journey.
“I love hearing people’s stories,” Starks said. “It is a privilege to hear about their life and dreams and come up with a plan. It’s fun and rewarding too.”