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W&M's Counselor Education Program wins national recognition

  • Faculty in Counselor Education
    Faculty in Counselor Education  includes, left to right, Daniel Gutierrez, Natoya Haskins, Rip McAdams, Patrick Mullen and Victoria Foster. Not pictured is Johnston Brendel.  
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W&M’s doctoral program in counselor education is small but has made a big name for itself in recent years.

Enrolling just five students per year, the program prepares faculty, researchers and leaders for the counseling profession. “We often say the W&M School of Education is the small school that thinks big,” said Dean Spencer Niles. “Our counselor education program is a perfect example — it’s a powerhouse in terms of leadership and scholarship within the field and it offers students an unparalleled and highly personalized experience.”

The program has now received one of the highest honors for a program of its kind: the Robert Frank Outstanding Counselor Education Program Award, given by the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES). The award is given annually to a program that places a premium on excellence through faculty members’ commitment to the field, continuous program improvement and development, a strong relationship with the students and surrounding community, and innovation in practice.

Despite its small size, the program has made a significant impact in the counselor education world, with alumni working in highly-ranked counselor education programs around the country and serving as leaders within the many counseling professional organizations. Faculty members are contributing to scholarship in the field at a high rate; over the past five years, the seven core faculty members have published an average of 14 journal articles per year and have served on numerous counseling editorial boards.

“W&M graduates, as was modeled to them by the faculty, are committed to service and leadership in the counseling profession,” said Angela McDonald Ph. D. ’06, associate dean of the UNC-Pembroke School of Education. “As a counselor education student, I was also asked to examine myself as a person in order to be a better scholar and counselor.”

Students and faculty frequently collaborate on scholarship and teaching projects, which allows for in-depth mentoring and relationship-building. Students also cite the support and flexibility offered by faculty, allowing them to follow their own interests and customize their studies. “Looking back on my three years at William & Mary, I recognize that my faculty members allowed me to thrive in my own, personalized way,” said Clare Merlin Ph.D. ’15, assistant professor of counseling at UNC-Charlotte. “They were present with resources and encouragement as needed, but they allowed me to explore my own interests in counselor education.”

Service to the community is a hallmark of the counselor education program. Over the years, faculty members have created several programs that provide clinical services to the community while offering School of Education students a venue for training and research.

The New Horizons Family Counseling Center is a counseling and teaching center established in 1979 to meet the needs of students and families in area school districts. These services are offered free of charge to local families and are supported through funding both from participating school districts and private sources. Since 2011, the center has provided the community approximately $1.65M worth of services on a budget of just $390,000. Through the center, doctoral students have the opportunity to supervise master’s-level counselors, manage the clinic’s operations, maintain partnerships and conduct research.

Doctoral students also serve the community through the New Leaf Clinic, a substance-abuse counseling center offering services both to W&M students struggling with substance abuse and the wider community, and Project Empower, which places graduate students in local high schools as counselors.

“Thanks to the presence of these training clinics, doctoral students have opportunities to serve as clinical directors, supervisors, and counselors throughout their doctoral training,” said Amy Williams M.Ed. ’13, Ph.D. ’16, associate professor at Youngstown State University. “Just as important, these training clinics provide important services to clients and families who may not otherwise seek or have financial access to counseling.”

The award will be presented at the ACES national conference in Chicago this fall.

“We’re thrilled to receive this award, as it recognizes the tremendous work our students, faculty and alumni are doing in the field,” said Victoria Foster, professor and director of the counselor education program. “Their commitment to excellence and to the counseling profession is unmatched, and inspires us all to make even bigger strides in the future.”