UTEP Rehab Counseling Graduate Program Moves to College of Education
Last Updated on September 07, 2021 at 12:00 AM
Originally published September 07, 2021
By Daniel Perez
In an effort to create a more robust and coordinated counseling program, The University of Texas at El Paso has transferred its Master of Rehabilitation Counseling (MRC) program to the College of Education from its home of 11 years, the College of Health Sciences (CHS).
The program and its 43 registered students will be part of the Department of Educational Psychology and Special Services, which is home to school and mental health counseling master’s degree plans. The mental health and rehabilitation counseling programs have earned accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.
Clifton Tanabe, Ph.D., dean of the College of Education, said the addition makes UTEP’s counseling portfolio – with three graduate degree plans – among the strongest in the state.
Tanabe said the additional degree plan is in line with the college’s overall strategy to use rigorous, high-quality programs to develop the skills of students, many who are bilingual and bicultural, to become the best teachers, counselors, diagnosticians and administrators possible to serve the children and families of the Paso del Norte region and beyond.
“This is a really exciting development,” Tanabe said. “It’s the whole package and we’re really thrilled to have them all under one powerful, comprehensive program for El Paso.”
The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved the move in spring 2021. The transfer became official Aug. 23, 2021, but it will take the program about a year to integrate fully into its new department, said Chuling Lo, Ph.D., clinical assistant professor and director of the MRC program. Lo and other program personnel will move to offices on the seventh floor of the Education Building, and they will have lab space on the building’s second floor.
Lo said she saw several benefits to this move, which CHS leadership supported. She said it would enhance the efficiency and accessibility of the academic units, improve collaboration between the University’s counseling specialties, and unite the professional identity among counseling students.
She said the merger would give MRC students more access to school district campuses and transition programs, which would enhance their knowledge about the services the districts provide. Lo added that the fusion could facilitate possible new course development and/or lead to the inclusion of issues about disabilities in other counseling curricula.
“The restructure of the academic units will broaden the service to clientele and prepare qualified counselors who are aware of disabilities and mental health issues in serving clients,” Lo said. “As people with disabilities are susceptible to health disparity, stigma and mental health issues, the interdisciplinary approach that involves all applied health professions is relevant in the training process.”
Beverley Argus-Calvo, Ph.D., associate dean in the College of Education, was instrumental in the acquisition of the MRC program. She said the cluster would provide counseling students the opportunity to study ways to support the emotional well-being of a greater number of people with disabilities from childhood through adulthood.
“This gives our students multiple routes to explore, which is good for someone who would prefer to work in a community-based setting as opposed to a classroom,” Argus-Calvo said. “This opens more bridges toward the connections between community, schools and UTEP.”
Tanabe and Argus-Calvo mentioned that the expansion of the college’s counseling portfolio comes at an opportune time. Recent studies have shown a rise in the number of people who need mental and physical health services to deal with pandemic-related issues at home, work and/or school. For example, a July 14, 2020, article in Michigan Health Lab of the University of Michigan stated that patients hospitalized from COVID-19 would need physical and cognitive rehabilitation to assist in their recovery from the virus’ damaging effects on the patients’ mind and body.
Leah Wood, the Educational Service Center Region 19’s Supporting Student Centered Transitions project manager, has worked with UTEP’s counseling programs for approximately 15 years. She said having the three programs under one academic roof would have far-reaching benefits for the UTEP students and the community.
Wood, a two-time UTEP graduate who earned her bachelor’s in education in 1991 and her master’s in communication six years later, said that this collaboration of disciplines builds familiarity and communication among students who will be tomorrow’s professionals.
While the State of Texas asks counselors to begin post-secondary school transition plans for students with disabilities at age 14, the work should start much earlier to give parents a better sense of expectations, Wood said. This merger of programs means earlier collaborations between teachers and vocational rehabilitation specialists, and that will benefit students with special needs.
“This addition will be huge,” said Wood, who teaches a special education transition course at UTEP every fall. “The advantage of having the MRC students with the College of Education is so beneficial.”
Representatives from the colleges of Education and Health Sciences organized a virtual town hall meeting with rehabilitation counseling students in March to explain the move and to address any concerns or questions. Officials stated that the merger would not affect their graduation requirements. In addition, diplomas issued as of August 2021, will come from the CHS. Those issued after would be from the College of Education. Program leaders also assured students that they would find a vigorous student support structure that would be attentive, targeted and individualized, as well as access to additional clinical site placements that matched their interests.
Among the students affected was Omar Gonzalez, an El Paso native and 23-year U.S. Navy veteran who expects to earn his graduate degree in summer 2022. He said the move would provide broader opportunities for practicum and internship placements. He also learned that this merger would streamline the process to schedule required courses offered through the College of Education.
Gonzalez, a first-generation college student, earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration in 2017 from a private online university in Alabama while still on active duty. He completed most of the work while aboard ships.
“All in all, in my opinion, the transition should be smooth and really does not affect the future of the MRC program,” said Gonzalez, who has service-connected disabilities. “Maybe it’ll help draw more students that aren’t too familiar with rehabilitation counseling to this profession.”
Rehabilitation counselors assist people with mental, physical, emotional or developmental disabilities to live independently. They work with clients to manage or overcome the social, personal or psychological effects of disabilities on employment or independent living. Some rehabilitation counselors decide to focus on helping youth with disabilities transition from school to work.
One of the major grants that will follow the MRC to the College of Education is the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) grant that provides $13,000 in federal funds to each student who is interested in working in the vocational rehabilitation field. UTEP has had the RSA program since 2010 and an estimated 150 students have benefited from it since then. Students who are interested in this program should contact Lo at 915-747-7843 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lo said that the MRC program intends to maintain strong ties with the CHS, especially its undergraduate rehabilitation sciences area of study, which supplies many of the MRC students. She added that the MRC program also attracts a good number of the CHS’s public health, social work, health promotion and kinesiology students. The graduate program also will continue to participate in an annual fall CHS interdisciplinary health-focused inter-professional education event that provides relevant training.