2024 Viterbo Grad Lexi Oestreich Dedicated to Helping Others

Thursday, May 9, 2024
Lexi Oestreich

When a Viterbo University first-year student and single mother needed childcare for her 1-year-old daughter, faculty member Matthew Bersagel Braley challenged his honor students to form a “care team” to provide babysitting services on campus four days a week while mom attended classes.

That was all fellow student Lexi Oestreich needed to hear.

“Although Lexi didn’t know this student, she responded immediately and has been one of the most consistent caregivers, taking time out of her already full days to spend time with a 1-year-old, not for any recognition but because there was a need,” Bersagel Braley said. “But that’s just a typical ‘Lexi’ story. Her legacy will continue to be lived by the many students, staff, and faculty who have been directly and indirectly inspired by her, and I am grateful to count myself among them.”

Matthew Bersagel Braley
Matthew Bersagel Braley

Bersagel Braley shared that story and many other kind words as he introduced Oestreich as a recipient of the St. Catherine’s Medal at the annual Viterbo Student Recognition Ceremony in April. The award is presented annually to students who “represent the high ideals of a Catholic college education” and is one of the university’s most prestigious.

“One of the things I’ve learned at Viterbo University is just how important community is,” said Oestreich of her volunteer and campus involvement.

An appreciation of community is just one of the life and academic lessons Oestreich will take with her as one of 448 candidates for graduation at Viterbo’s spring commencement ceremony at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 11 at the La Crosse Center. She will earn a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology with minors in criminal and community justice and substance abuse counseling.

“It’s been an amazing, enlightening, transformative experience,” said Oestreich of her education. “Now I’m looking forward to starting a new chapter and working in a career I love.”

Oestreich will begin May 20 as a full-time outreach advocate at New Horizons Shelter and Outreach Center in La Crosse, the organization at which she completed an internship last fall and has worked part-time in the same position since February. The job involves meeting with clients in the shelter, helping them to set important initial goals involving challenging topics such as safety and fleeing, restraining orders, divorce, social services and other resources, and gaining employment.

 “You hear many stories of past trauma and difficult circumstances, often dating back to childhood,” said Oestreich, who noted that she often applies skills she learned in the classroom to her job. “You’re helping and caring for people who are dealing with the most difficult things they will hopefully ever face. When you see clients demonstrate resiliency, grow, and take back their identity from their abuser, and you have helped them on their new path in some small way, it is very rewarding.”

While working for New Horizons, Oestreich plans to earn a master’s degree online to become a licensed mental health counselor. She would like to work with survivors of domestic violence or other abuse. Whatever her future position, Oestreich wants it to be “on the ground helping people.”

David Saunders-Scott
David Saunders-Scott

Viterbo psychology faculty member David Saunders-Scott has every confidence Oestreich will be successful in her present and future career endeavors. Saunders-Scott has witnessed her “jump at every opportunity to help others” throughout her time at the university. She also has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to listen and empathize with others going through difficult situations.

“Without a doubt, Lexi is one of the most compassionate people I have ever met,” Saunders-Scott said. “She has extremely high social intelligence and connects very well with others. She has a real gift for making people feel better—I can’t say enough about her in that regard.”

Oestreich’s interest in the field of psychology began through an early fascination with—of all things for such a nice person—serial killers. Over the years however, that curiosity turned into caring for the survivors. She also knew she wanted to work in a “helping profession,” such as counseling.

Lexi Oestreich on commencement day

One of 26 graduates in the Greenwood High School class of 2020, Oestreich chose to attend Viterbo because of its size and the fact that it was located in a community far enough from her hometown. She began her college experience during a difficult time, however, the fall of 2020 in the middle of pandemic. COVID-19 safety restrictions limited social interactions, and as with many students at the time, her first semester was often difficult. She never thought of leaving school though, and by the spring, she was well on her way to making a tight circle of close friends.

Taking advantage of opportunities—academic, leadership, service, employment, and otherwise—turned out to be the operative phrase for Oestreich during her time at Viterbo. She conducted major research projects as part of a class and the university’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship program, served as the president of the campus psychology club, participated in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics, worked for the La Crosse Parks and Recreation Department, and served as a peer mentor as part of the university’s Student Support Services TRIO grant program.

Lexi Oestreich on commencement day

“Over the last three years, not only has Lexi been an outstanding mentor to first-year Viterbo students, she has also become a leader among the mentors, helping them to learn and grow in their role,” said Melissa Growt, assistant director of the university’s Academic Resource Center. “Her positive attitude, sense of humor, and enthusiasm for serving others has benefitted everyone who had the privilege of working with and getting to know her.”

Oestreich’s college experience included two other major highlights as well. She participated in an 18-day study abroad trip to South Africa, her first time traveling outside the U.S. Led by Bersagel Braley, the trip was part of the course titled “Resistance and Reconciliation in South Africa.”

“It is difficult to put into words everything I learned from that experience,” Oestreich said. “It was amazing.”

Oestreich was also the lead actor in the anti-discrimination public service announcement video “Bystander,” for the International Youth Media Summit. The very successful video qualified Oestreich and her international castmates for a free trip to this year’s event in Tanzania, Africa. She declined the trip in favor of her new career position.

 “I’ve really valued learning and being challenged academically,” said Oestreich of her time at Viterbo University. “And I have discovered a great deal about myself as a person. I am happy and grateful for all the opportunities I’ve had as a student.”

Lexi Oestreich on commencement day