Tag: Counseling Adult and Higher Education

Counseling students gain ‘life-changing’ perspectives during mission trips to Guatemala

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

NIU’s January 2016 contingent of volunteers in Guatemala.

Many service-minded NIU students will spend next week’s Spring Break on the road, volunteering their time and labor to improve the lives of people in faraway places.

But that sort of humanitarianism is not constricted to one week of the year.

Just ask Scott Wickman, as associate professor in the NIU Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.

A few years ago, one of his long-ago high school Spanish pupils invited him to travel with her to Guatemala for a mission trip.

Wickman volunteered there under the auspices of Catalyst Resources International, an organization that coordinates teams from around the world to build houses, stoves, water filtration systems, plumbing and other amenities for rural families living in abject poverty among the mountains.

Coming home, he found himself transformed.

“Once you see and meet these children, you’ll never forget about it – and you’ll tell others,” Wickman says. “I was talking about it to a class, and I said, ‘I’m going back.’ And a student asked, ‘Can we go with you?’ That’s how it happens. It’s a ripple effect.”

Scott Wickman at work.

Scott Wickman at work.

He is scheduled to accompany a group of around 10 students to Guatemala during the week of May 20, once again paying forward the gift of sorts he received from his former student.

It’s the second such trip, managed through Huskie Alternative Breaks, during which travelers receive life lessons along with academic learning.

“Our primary purpose is to explore social justice through service learning,” Wickman says. “Last year, we made a hen house the size of a garage, and we purchased 20 chickens for them. That family is now selling the eggs as a way to sustain themselves. We’ve provided a means for a higher quality of living.”

Local Guatemalan carpenters supervise the sawing of boards and pounding of nails, he says. Wickman and the students live in a well-protected residence hall facility, which employs Guatemalans to clean the rooms and make the beds.

Evening hours allow for trips to a nearby orphanage, where the counselors-in-training engage children in adventured-based activities. They also chat with mental health professionals about what counseling looks like in Guatemala as well as what mental health services are available.

They meet children who are bright but not in school; free education stops around fifth- or sixth-grade, Wickman says, forcing many young people to drop out. That often results in adolescent pregnancies while ultimately continuing the cycle of poverty.

Such interactions are eye-opening for NIU students, Wickman says, but so are the heartwarming encounters that reveal “the amount of sharing that takes place” between the villagers.

One hen house, coming up ...

One hen house, coming up …

“There was one day when we had planned a picnic lunch, but on our way we decided to eat at a restaurant instead,” he says. “Our driver saw a local Mayan family walking along the road, so he pulled over and gave them our picnic lunches. He gave cookies to the kids.”

For one of Wickman’s students, that benevolent spirit proved contagious. After meeting a young teen girl who had quit school for financial reasons, the NIU Huskie telephoned her parents and convinced them to pay for the little girl’s secondary education.

His students also see the NIU program’s principles of advocacy, altruism, diversity and social justice reinforced while they gain deeper levels of empathy and new perspectives on counseling.

Most counseling in the United States is practiced behind closed doors during private one-on-one sessions where details are kept confidential, he says. However, given the familial customs in Guatemala, a counselor there might find extended families coming for the sessions.

“This trip helps my students understand how to work with different cultures,” he says. “When we have clients who are Latino, we need to reset ourselves in a way that meets our clients’ needs.”

T.J. Schoonover, a master’s degree student from Sterling, Ill., who participated in first trip in January of 2016, calls it “100 percent life-changing.”

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

T.J. Schoonover (top center) made some young friends in Guatemala.

He remains struck by the reaction by the family who received the hen house – “how happy and grateful they were; their tears of joy” – as well the appreciation he realized for his own way of life in contrast to the extreme poverty there.

“Going to Guatemala was a great opportunity to go and so some service work, to get out of our comfort zone and to challenge ourselves,” Schoonover says. “Seeing how it is outside of America, I know I need to get out and do things in the community, and not just in my community but in other communities.”

Volunteering also improved his multicultural competencies, he says. “It’s more than just reading a textbook,” he says. “It’s talking to people in the community. It’s doing things. It’s putting your skills to practical use.”

In the end, he says, the journey to Central America will make him a better counselor.

“It gave me a whole new worldview,” he says. “I’m reminded that whatever clients I will have, they have completely different stories and backgrounds than me.”

Now that word of the Guatemala trip has spread – registration for this spring is already closed – Wickman has found renewed empowerment in the response of his students.

“Students who go on these trips are interested in being altruistic. They’re willing to get dirty – it is hard labor under hot sun – and they’re willing to be uncomfortable. It’s partly why they went into the counseling program to being with,” he says. “I’m hoping that the ripple effect continues, and that these students who go down there will want to go back again with their own families.”

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.

Scott Wickman visits with Guatemalan children.



Z Nicolazzo: Schools need more than just policies on bullying

Z Nicolazzo

Z Nicolazzo

For K-12 educators who attended NIU’s Oct. 26 professional development conference on “Bullying: How Schools Can Respond,” a quotation presented by keynote speakers Z Nicolazzo and Molly Holmes painted a difficult picture.

“The dominant narrative (of LGBTQ bullying) depends on an inaccurate premise,” Nicolazzo said, reading from a 2013 study by researchers Elizabethe Payne and Melissa Smith.

“It assumes schools to be neutral sites where all students have an equal opportunity to succeed and that barriers to success appear when individuals’ injurious behavior or attitudes create a ‘negative’ school climate where student safety and belonging are threatened.”

What’s more, the presenters said, the increasing visibility of trans* people in the United States is matched by a growing vulnerability, risk of harm and threat of harassment.

LGBTQ students are experiencing educational environments that are less than ideal. They continue to face a lack of acceptance. Their lives are not reflected or affirmed through school curricula – and they are aware of that deficit.

One recent study found that 22 percent of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from other students often or very often; 25.5 percent of students heard school staff make negative remarks related to gender expression.

“School officials condone this cruel dynamic through inaction,” according to the 2001 “Hatred in the Hallways” report from the Human Rights Watch, “or in some cases because they, too, judge gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth to be underserving of respect.”

ask-my-pronounsDespite all this, said Nicolazzo, who uses the pronouns of ze and hir, America’s “gender expansive youth are resilient. They continue to live they lives they want to.”

For example, ze said, the number of people younger than 18 who are identifying as gender-expansive is three to six times greater than the number of adults doing so. Meanwhile, gender-expansive youth are connecting online for kinship as well as exploration of gendered possibilities.

Encouragement is also available in the “trickle up” philosophy: If schools focus on their most vulnerable populations, the positive effects should “trickle up” and potentially impact all students.

Co-sponsored by the College of Education Office of External & Global Programs, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences External Programming and the University Center of Lake County, the conference covered a variety of topics on bullying.

Nicolazzo, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, and Holmes, director of NIU’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, spoke on “Expanding Our Approach to Gender-Based Bullying.”

Among their key messages was the necessity of “enumerated” non-discrimination policies at schools – policies that outline not only the rules of conduct and the penalties for violating them but also statements of values.

Molly Holmes

Molly Holmes

Students who attend schools with enumerated non-discrimination policies report that they hear fewer homophobic and racist remarks than those in schools with no – or generic – policies. They also are less likely to perceive bullying as a problem at their schools or to feel unsafe.

But Nicolazzo and Holmes made clear that schools that are striving to create effective places for learning must update their policies at least every two years and actively enforce them.

Otherwise, Nicolazzo said, the policies are merely “caution tape.” They tell people what not to do, ze said, but they don’t really stop people from doing what they purport to prohibit.

“Pinkwashing” creates another problem, ze added, when schools and other organizations market policies of gender-inclusiveness but fail to carry them out.

The duo provided several other critical ideas for conference participants to ponder.

  • Educators must be diligent in the ongoing work of unlearning gender, specifically the how gender binary discourse structures school environments.
  • Educators need to remember LGBTQ students have agency to name their own lives, experiences and identities.
  • Educators need to seek and amplify counter-stories to LGBTQ deficit-based rhetoric and illogic.
  • Educators should infuse notions of gender throughout their curriculum.

“If we stop at having a policy,” Nicolazzo said, “we aren’t going to change.”



CAHE launches graduate certificate in trauma counseling

Working counselors can complete NIU’s online coursework in one year.

Working counselors can complete NIU’s online coursework in one year.

Not everyone who enters the counseling profession has been prepared to deal with clients who have experienced trauma.

Yet every counselor – including those who work in schools, helping students to facilitate positive change and advancement in their personal development and interactions – will encounter exactly that.

“Trauma is this concept of things that impact one’s life, usually from an external force, such as a murder or suicide, a terminal diagnosis for a child, domestic violence or a natural disaster,” says Adam Carter, assistant professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education.

“It can leave an individual feeling ungrounded. Counselors see people who completely shut down, who turn inward and do not want to talk about it,” Carter adds. “We see people who are constantly processing it, or who can’t sleep at night, which makes daily functioning very difficult.”

Graduates of counseling programs who want that critical knowledge, along with an additional credential, can find it through NIU’s new Graduate Certificate in Trauma-Informed Counseling.

Designed to prepare or enhance master’s- or doctoral-level clinicians in various agency and treatment contexts, the courses focus on understanding elements of traumatic exposure, common threads of treatments and outcomes, trauma-sensitive care, crisis intervention and more.

All courses are offered completely online and, beginning in the fall semester of 2017, students can complete the certificate in one year. The classes are asynchronous.

Adam Carter

Adam Carter

“We wanted to make it accessible,” Carter says. “The week’s activities go online Monday, and students have the entire week to learn the module. There are videos of me going over the information, multimedia presentations, traditional readings and project-based learning.”

Curriculum includes theory-based and best practice-based strategies that counselors can apply immediately in their work.

Meanwhile, students will learn to spot signs of complex trauma that might not appear evident on the surface, such as from clients who live in neighborhoods with high crime rates, bad schools and few job opportunities.

Students also are required to complete work in groups, he adds: “Trauma work is done collaboratively,” he says. “Trauma work is group work.”

For example, students are assigned a crisis-based simulation; each must tackle a different aspect of the counseling response, weighing the importance of their segment against the importance of the others. Students eventually must write a collaborative report and submit it to Carter, who in the simulation acts as the crisis manager.

A handful of current NIU graduate students and five or six students-at-large already are taking some of the coursework, Carter says, as they train to become more well-rounded counselors.

“Professional counselors are dealing with people who are at the most vulnerable parts of their lives, and we’re asking them to trust us,” says Carter, who specializes in play therapy. “We need to know what to do with that trust.”

For more information on the certificate, email adamcarter@niu.edu. For information on applying, email CAHC_Admissions@niu.edu.



How to save a life

NIU receives grant to prevent suicides through awareness

mental-health-chalkA $300,000 grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will work to decrease stigma around mental health and promote resilience in the NIU community.

NIU’s three-year grant, awarded to collaborators from the NIU College of Education’s Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education (CAHE) and NIU Counseling & Consultation Services, will fund various training programs and an awareness campaign.

“Like every other campus across the country, we’re seeing more and more students presenting with mental health issues than we have in the past,” said Brooke Ruxton, executive director of Counseling & Consultation Services and a licensed clinical psychologist, “and we’re doing something about that.”

Called “B-Safer” – an acronym for “Building Suicide Awareness and Fostering Enhanced Resilience” – the initiative officially begins Sept. 30. The B-Safer team also includes Suzanne Degges-White and Carrie Kortegast, chair and assistant professor in CAHE respectively.

Workshops will include “gatekeeper” training for faculty and staff, who will learn how to identify at-risk students and how to respond when they do.

The B-Safer program also will offer awareness training for peer leaders from student organizations on how to recognize signs of trouble in their friends and classmates.

Suzanne Degges-White, Carrie Kortegast and Brooke Ruxton

Suzanne Degges-White, Carrie Kortegast and Brooke Ruxton

Both scenarios will take into consideration NIU’s diversity; some populations on campus are culturally resistant to seeking out help for mental health issues, Ruxton said.

Participants also will learn from Kognito, an online program that, according to its website, “simulates the interactions and behaviors of practicing health professionals, patients, caregivers, students and educators in real-life situations” through “conversation simulations featuring virtual humans to drive measurable change in physical, emotional and social health.”

Kortegast hopes her colleagues across campus will participate – and find empowerment.

“Faculty are some of the people who are seeing students on an ongoing, regular basis. Sometimes there is a reluctance on the part of faculty to inquire with students on how they’re doing,” Kortegast said. “We can do this in a way of a community of care rather than, ‘It’s not my business. It’s not my concern. There are others who will intervene.’ ”

Such awareness “builds a community of care in which faculty and staff feel it’s OK to reach out to students and resources on campus, that it’s OK to talk about issues of mental health,” Ruxton added. “We’re creating a culture that this is something we’re doing with student organizations, this is something we’re talking about, that we’re watching out for our friends.”

Degges-White, Kortegast and Ruxton already have assembled a Mental Health Task Force made up of NIU faculty and staff as well as a representative from the DeKalb County Community Mental Health Board.

“A big piece is connecting with the community,” Degges-White said. “We need to have community buy-in.”