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Counseling internships lead to employment in a much-needed field

Published: February 24, 2022 Author: Kim Barlag

When graduate student Katie Troha received her diploma this December, she was already celebrating her new fulltime job offer. Troha had accepted a position as a professional counselor at The Village Network in Tuscarawas, OH, where she had recently completed her 600-hour internship in clinical mental health counseling.

Katie Troha 1
With 100 percent placement rate, OHIO’s Counselor Education program helped recent graduate Katie Troha get a job as a professional counselor at The Village Network in Tuscarawas, OH.

Troha is one of three students who were accepted into the first cohort of The Patton College of Education’s Counselor Education program as part of a $2 million grant awarded to the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) by the U.S. Department of Education. The goal of this School-Based Mental Health Services grant is to increase the number of qualified mental health service providers offering school-based services to students with demonstrated need. Through this grant, students may be awarded a paid internship of $10,000 to train as school counselors to work in seven Appalachian Ohio counties: Belmont, Guernsey, Harrison, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, and Tuscarawas. Troha specialized in both school counseling and clinical mental health counseling during her master’s program.

“In my placements, I learned a lot about the day-to-day specifics of working as a school counselor and as a mental health counselor and about the importance of working together with other professionals,” Troha said. “I learned about what I want to focus on in my work, what I'm most comfortable with, and what I want to work on improving. I feel fortunate to be able to begin working immediately after graduating, especially at a place I'm familiar with and that I know has a good culture and approach to this work.”

By remaining in the Tuscarawas area, Troha is fulfilling the grant’s purpose to increase the number of mental health professionals serving Appalachian youth. If Troha remains in her position, she will have the opportunity to earn retention bonuses over a three-year period. 

“This grant is a win-win,” Christine Suniti Bhat, professor and chair of the Counseling and Higher Education Department, said. “Our students gain valuable experience through the paid internships and are able to move into their first jobs seamlessly. And the counties with a high need for mental health professionals attract and hopefully retain counselors who are trained and committed to working with youth.”

The other two students, Cassie Harper and Abigail Stratton, are both in their final semester of the master’s program. For their internships, Harper was placed at Cambridge High School in Guernsey County, and Stratton was placed at Morgan High School in Morgan County. They each have already earned their $10,000 stipend. Both students have a “whole child” focus, addressing social and emotional issues, as well as career and academic issues with students in individual and group interventions. Upon graduation, both students hope to move into positions as school counselors within the seven-county area, with the grant providing a subsidy for the first year of their salary.

Cassie Harper 1
Cassie Harper entered the Counselor Education program after earning her bachelor’s in psychology from Ohio University.

Harper entered the program immediately after earning her bachelor’s in psychology from Ohio University.

“I knew that I wanted to stay within the Athens community for graduate school and continue being a Bobcat because I felt comfortable and supported here,” Harper said. “When I discovered the Counselor Education program provided the opportunity to pursue three separate specializations—School Counseling, Clinical Mental Health, and Clinical Rehabilitation—I knew that was unique and jumped at the chance.”

Harper’s goal upon graduation is to earn the Professional Pupil Services License and find a position in a school where she can make an impact fostering success and advocacy through supporting students' academic, social, and emotional wellbeing.

“Our program did a fine job teaching us the theories, techniques, history, and purpose of the whole counseling profession, but field work allowed us to put those theories and techniques into practice and refine our skills in a school setting,” Harper added. “It also helped us develop our own professional identity, which is the foundation of our field. Going into practicum and internship was equally exciting and terrifying, but it truly was my favorite part of my graduate experience.”

Stratton, who explains she comes from a long line of family members who are proud to be Ohio University alumni, also entered the program after earning her bachelor’s in psychology from OHIO.

“I have always found myself having a strong passion for assisting others who are in need,” Stratton said “I wish to help others in resolving their difficulties and overcoming obstacles to learning. I decided to pursue this career path by choosing majors that would help me to accomplish that.”

Upon graduation, she hopes to find a job in Ohio where she can help future students with their academic achievements, social and emotional development, and career planning. She feels her placement at Morgan High School has prepared her well.

Abigal Stratton 1
Abigail Stratton comes from a long line of family members who are proud to be Ohio University alumni. She also entered the program after earning her bachelor’s in psychology from OHIO.

 “I've observed how my supervisor advises and assists students with short-term crisis situations, graduation checks, senior next steps, etc.,” Stratton said.I have collaborated with teachers to be able to present classroom guidance lessons in their classrooms. I have been attending trainings and webinars that range from the ACT and FAFSA to Risk Assessment and Safety Planning Training and Trauma Informed IEPs. I can talk forever on what all I have learned.”

The ODE grant partnership with The Patton College is available for another four years, and is being offered during a critical time. In December 2021, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory on a youth mental health crisis exacerbated by COVID and the losses, isolation, and disruption that have come with the pandemic. One recommended strategy to address this crisis is to expand the school-based mental health workforce.

“School counseling is special,” Harper said. “School counselors are experts in academic, career, and social/emotional wellbeing for students. It truly is the perfect combination of mental health and education.”

Stratton, who is from Cambridge, added, “I think that it is amazing how ODE has implemented this grant to these Appalachian counties. I grew up in one of these counties, and I do see a need to increase services to students within the area.” 

The Ohio University Counselor Education program is accredited nationally, and graduates of the program have a 100 percent job placement rate.