Agnes Ho talks wellbeing, social work and sushi
Agnes Ho has two loves: sushi restaurants and genuine connections. The latter is one that she’s spent the past decade cultivating at Rice as director of the Wellbeing and Counseling Center. Her experiences as a first-generation, international student have enabled her to tackle mental health issues for a wide variety of adolescents at Rice and in the Houston community as a whole.
“Growing up, I knew I didn’t want to sit still in the office all day long,” Ho said. “I love to get out and talk to people.”
According to Ho, she has always been enamored with the field of social service. She grew up in Hong Kong, where she earned her undergraduate degree in social work, and fell in love with the field through a hands-on internship experience. After an exchange semester at the University of Houston, she secured a scholarship to pursue her master’s degree in social work from UH and has resided in the city for the past 16 years.
Ho started her post-graduate career working with at-risk adolescents and families in a Harris County outreach program to provide and abuse prevention services, before coming to work at Rice.
“It’s very rewarding to see the changes in students … it’s amazing, actually, I tend to work with students from their freshman year up until when they graduate … I even stay in touch with some students after they graduate,” Ho said. “For many years I’ve been a mentor for college presidents, SA presidents [and] in [those roles] I was able to build that connection more deeply with my mentees.”
Although her day-to-day career involves promoting mental health wellness, Ho said that sometimes it can be difficult to remember to follow her own advice.
“Sometimes we, especially myself, need to remind ourselves to practice our own self-care…it’s okay to set healthy boundaries,” Ho said. “I have two kids [and] they are lovely, they help me to distract my attention a lot … When I get home I can switch off my work stuff and focus on my family or myself.”
She notes, however, that there is a lot of overlap between her relationships with Rice and her personal life, through bringing her children to work with her and familiarizing them with the campus.
“It’s a really great community to raise a family,” Ho said. “They feel like they’re a part of it, too.”
Outside of her professional pursuits, Ho and her family are self-proclaimed foodies, making the most of the diverse cuisines and friendly faces that Houston has to offer.
“There’s a restaurant called Sasaki on Westheimer…we’ve been going there for the last 15 years,” Ho said. “The sushi is good, but really it’s about the connection with the chef. He’s [been] a witness of me and my husband … when we were dating, married, first kid … he’s seen us each grow as [people], adults and family.”
To Ho, connections such as this, and networks of people to rely on, are critical to fostering mental wellness. These resources enable her to maintain a positive outlook on her endeavors in social work.
“Sometimes we may not be able to see the change [in students] within four years, but I do believe what we’re doing here is planting the seeds out there,” Ho said. “Maybe that’s just one conversation with a student, maybe 10 years, 20 years later it will make an impact on the student’s life … that’s my belief and faith when working with students, that’s what keeps me going.”
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