Metaphorically, it was a winding road with some fits and starts that took Nicholas Ochal to the career in social work that he enjoys today.
“I applied to Washtenaw Community College and a four-year institution when I finished at Pioneer High School in Ann Arbor,” Ochal said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do when I ‘grew up,’ but I knew I had to get an education. I started at WCC because it was the less expensive option while I figured out what I wanted to study.”
Figure it out, he did. The 31-year-old White Lake resident is currently the Clinical Coordinator at Beginning Step, an outpatient substance use disorder treatment program in Westland. After earning an Associate of Arts in Human Services degree from WCC, he went on to gain a bachelor’s degree from Eastern Michigan University and a master’s from the University of Michigan, both in social work.
He is responsible for all of the clinical services at Beginning Step, including group therapy and individual counseling. He oversees and guides the work of master-level counselors, making sure they are providing quality and ethical treatment to patients.
“My first semester at WCC didn’t go well,” Ochal recalled. “I stopped attending classes then took another year off to re-evaluate why I wanted to go to school.
It was a co-worker who suggested to Ochal that he might want to look into social work as a career.
“I Googled it and it sparked an inner drive that I didn’t have before,” Ochal said. “I re-enrolled at WCC after that year off with a new purpose and ended up graduating with high honors. That’s what’s so important about finding, or creating, your purpose.”
Ochal is quick to credit WCC, its programs and faculty for much of his success: “WCC is a fantastic college,” he said. “I’ll say nice things about it whenever I can.” He’s especially grateful to WCC faculty members Kristy Norris (Psychology), Dr. Starr Burke (Behavioral Sciences) and Elisabeth Thoburn (Humanities) — all of whom still teach at the college — for guiding him along the way.
“I chose the field of social work because of its dedication to helping society’s most vulnerable people,” he said. “I always knew that when I chose a career, I would want to do something meaningful and make a positive difference in the world.”