In the late 1980s, Dan Cressman delayed studying for his master’s in counseling after he got a full-time position at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute in Las Vegas. The diversion turned into a 25-year stint.
Cressman, who lives in El Pueblo near Villanueva State Park, eventually got his graduate degree in counseling and has worked as a mental health counselor for the United World College-USA since 2012. He helps students at the Montezuma international high school who are struggling with mental health issues.
“You have kids leaving home a few years earlier than they would’ve, and sometimes, it’s their first time away from home,” Cressman said. “They may never sleep right and are at an age in which mental health is delicate. A lot of times, students just need help getting ground. It’s an adjustment disorder.”
Cressman’s story starts in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where he grew up with two older brothers. His father was a geophysicist and his mother taught middle school science.
Before Cressman’s sophomore year in high school, his father was hired as head of special projects for Saudi Arabian Oil Co. The family moved to London, where Cressman attended the American Community School with students and staff from around the world.
At first, he didn’t like it.
“I was a little Okie guy who had been working in a gas station,” Cressman remembered. “I had a motorcycle and a license since I was 14. It was really just mind-numbing to go to school in London, where everything was very fast.”
His fellow students were the children of diplomats, and from oil and military families.
“There were a lot of international students from India, Pakistan and all over the world so everybody was out of their element,” Cressman said. “If there was a war in Beirut, families would escape there and their kids would come to school there. It was kind of UWCish. Very idealistic.”
After graduation, he went to Oklahoma State in Stillwater to study parks and recreation.
“I wanted to be a park ranger in the Ozarks, drive the green truck and have a little farm next to the park,” Cressman said.
After college, he got a job at an adventure camp north of Stillwater. Cressman transferred to the company’s facility outside Toronto, Canada, which is where he met his wife, Carole. They married in 1986 and took a three-week honeymoon on an old BMW motorcycle. During that trip, the couple discovered Brush Ranch, a Northern New Mexico boarding school for children with academic learning differences and a summer camp. Both got jobs there.
After some time, Cressman decided to return to school for his master’s in counseling. He applied for a part-time job at the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute and was offered a full-time position as its director of long-term care recreation. Cressman was later named director of recreation for the entire facility. He oversaw a ropes course, took residents backpacking and provided horseback riding opportunities.
Cressman was later named director of the adolescent treatment program, where he remained until joining UWC-USA, which on average has 235, 16- to 19-year-old students from 90 countries.
Cressman and his wife own five irrigated acres along the Pecos River. Carole Cressman is the campus manager at Santa Fe Waldorf, a private school for students from preschool through high school; both of their daughters went to Waldorf. Daniela graduated from New Mexico Highlands University and is a writer. Amia is studying at the University of New Mexico to be a nurse practitioner in psychiatry.