A special cohort of mental health professionals is graduating from Northern Arizona University this week.
Five master’s students from the clinical mental health counseling program in the College of Education didn’t plan to don blue and gold for their graduation. Kiesha Collins, Noah Charles, Rebecca Jokinen, Kayla Westover and Alison De la Concepcion all transferred to NAU when the program they were enrolled in unexpectedly lost its accreditation. They had to find new apartments, transfer credits and join a cohort that had already been together for a while. A few lost credits and had to put off graduating.
But, thanks to Dean Ramona Mellott along with department chair Robert Horn and department faculty, who created a solid articulation agreement with the corresponding university, five of those students found a new home at NAU. Now they are graduating as Lumberjacks.
“This cohort deserves high commendations for their hard work and determination,” Mellott said. “I am glad NAU was here to assist them in helping these students achieve their dreams of becoming a counselor. I would like to say congratulations on graduating and good luck in the future to every graduate from this program.”
It wasn’t easy. De la Concepcion and Westover spoke to NAU News about their experiences at NAU and what’s coming next for them. For Westover, it wasn’t just postponing graduation by a semester; she made multiple trips north to look for housing, she had to find a new job and she even had to find a car that was better able to handle winter at 7,000 feet. She never did get enthusiastic about the winter, but she found her place in the program, especially with the other transfer students.
“I loved my experience at NAU,” Westover said. “The whole cohort was so accepting, and the professors showed they care through all of their hard work and dedication. I am so grateful for the friendships I made and the opportunity to develop more at NAU. It was great to be welcomed into the cohort and explore Flagstaff together.”
Getting her education as part of a couple of different cohorts helped as she built relationships; counseling involves significant networking and support, and she was fortunate, she said, to have the support of her cohort through the unusual ups and downs of this particular graduate school experience.
Four months after De La Concepcion began her graduate program, she found herself relocating again. It was devastating, she said, and the move meant incurring additional costs, finding a new job and apartment and leaving friends behind. But once that was behind her, De La Concepcion found a welcoming environment, supportive professors and the education she wanted.
“My experience at NAU was wonderful,” she said. “I had my professors check in regularly, especially during my first semester to see how things were going with the transition. The welcome was extended in my courses, with all members of the cohort being empathetic to our unique experiences and sharing their knowledge on the program. The coursework, experiential experience and networking opportunities through Chi Sigma Iota prepared me to actively collaborate, consult and ask for help in this field in accordance with ethics and gain knowledge from multiple perspectives.”
They also found friends in the sub-cohort that transferred to NAU. Westover and De la Concepcion made their decisions to transfer together; they’re now close friends and Westover will be a bridesmaid in De la Concepcion’s wedding later this summer.
After graduation, they’re both heading back to their hometowns—the Valley for Westover and Albuquerque, New Mexico, for De la Conception. De la Concepcion has an internship that will allow her to work with diverse populations; she hopes to build a career working with military veterans. Westover hopes to get a job at the practice where she interned, so she can continue developing her counseling skills and get enough hours to be fully licensed.
About the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program
The Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, part of NAU’s College of Education, is a 60-credit program accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs (CACREP). Students receive a hands-on educational experience in their program to prepare them for work as a license-eligible counselor in agencies, private practices, in-patient hospitals or in consulting or to further their education by completing a doctoral degree in a similar field. Programs are available in Flagstaff, Phoenix and Tucson. For more information, visit the program website.
Heidi Toth | NAU Communications
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