Fiss ’21 Helps Children Through Crises

By Caitlin Burns | February 3, 2021

By Katherine Haines ’21

Psychology major and Sociology minor Zac Fiss ’21 has always been passionate about working with people. 

He first wanted to pursue pediatrics, but decided the medical field wasn’t for him. He’s shifted into a similar yet different path through his part-time job and internship: helping children cope with behavioral issues and crises.

“I always knew I wanted to work with children, I just didn’t know exactly what route,” said Fiss. “I figured, if I’m not going to work medically with people, then I can work on behavior and I can work with helping people mentally and with their emotions.”

In October, while looking for internships to fulfill a graduation requirement, Fiss received a job offer from Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health in the Children Behavioral Health Service Department on its Brandywine campus, where he now works part-time as a Direct Support Professional (DSP). 

The residential facility functions as a school and residency for children ages 7-12 that have different behavioral and psychiatric diagnoses that lead to them needing more round-the-clock and structured care than an outpatient counseling center. Fiss works in direct care with the children, providing behavioral and emotional management and monitoring with behavior charts and crises support. 

“A crisis for a child is often onset by something like a peer was bullying them or they had a bad phone call with a family member, or just little things that triggered something over time, like they just kept tripping and falling throughout the day and then they dropped their sandwich and that triggered them having a complete meltdown,” said Fiss. “We work in guiding them through that and getting them back to a more mellow level of where they were before where you can work with them.”

In addition to his part-time job, Fiss also completed his senior year internship at Children’s Crisis Treatment Center in Philadelphia through the Intern Philly program, where he is working with children ages 3-5 in a therapeutic nursery. There, he shadowed the care coordinator in the outpatient center that functioned like a preschool classroom, doing both direct administrative work with the care coordinators and working in the classroom with the different behavioral health workers. 

“When you’re working with a three-year-old who’s having a complex crisis—it’s a lot different how you approach a young child versus an older child,” said Fiss. “Even still, the goal of an outpatient center is at the end of the day, they go home and it’s a lot different than a residential facility, so you’re working with the family and having a more holistic approach with the child.”

His extracurricular experience with Arcadia students helped confirm for him that this was the correct path for him early on, as he learned to mitigate tense discussions and actively listen. Fiss was the treasurer, vice president, and now president of the Student Programming Board (SPB); and he also helped to start the Psychology Club and has been their treasurer since 2019. The experience he credits most with reaffirming his major change has been as a Resident Assistant (RA), a position he’s held since his sophomore year. 

As an RA, Fiss works directly with students as they adjust to college life, especially first-year students. 

“Working with individuals transitioning into a new chapter in their life, and the customer service aspect of helping people with any issues they have, exposed me to working with individuals with different needs, backgrounds, and issues,” said Fiss. “While that’s not directly related to working with children, it’s kind of the same concept of having to take a step back and reevaluate your approach for each person and just coming to each situation with an open mind.”

As Fiss applies to graduate school, the in-person work he’s been doing in two different settings has helped him decide what he is looking for in a graduate school, but also in a career. He has been able to focus his applications on schools that are two years of classes and one year of practical experience, but that allow you to get certified in both education and outpatient settings. 

Fiss is grateful for the opportunities he’s been given to explore his career field and gain first-hand knowledge about things like how to avoid burnout through self-care and emotion management, in addition to the importance of having an open mind and being flexible. 

“You do what you have to do and at the end of the day, the mission is still the same in the sense of wanting to help change these people’s lives and just helping them be the best versions they can be and improving their situations,” said Fiss. “It makes me feel like I’m really a good fit for this and that I’m making a difference even at such an early point in my overall career.”