By Laura McDonough
Youngstown State University’s master’s program in counseling received the national Outstanding Counselor Education Program Award in 2003 and is receiving the award again for the 2015 year.
The Association for Counselor Education and Supervision recognizes counselor education programs that exemplify the importance of excellence through standards and innovation.
The ACES Awards will present the award to YSU in Philadelphia on Oct. 10.
Matthew Paylo, director of YSU’s counseling program, said the award is one of the most prestigious, and he is proud of the students and faculty who made winning the award possible.
“It’s a huge honor for our program. I think that it highlights the work of previous faculty and current faculty, the diligence of our students, who then become alumni, and then the work that they’ve done since graduating,” Paylo said. “That’s been able to capture and highlight a number of innovative qualities about our program,”
Jake Protivnak, chair of the department of counseling, special education and school psychology, said the program is successful because of the combination of success, talent, passion and hard work of devoted students and faculty.
“When you look at the totality of the accomplishments of YSU’s counseling program faculty, students and alumni, as a master’s program, we are, in my opinion, head and shoulders above other counseling programs,” Protivnak said.
Charles Howell, dean of the Beeghly College of Education, is proud the department has won the award as it means a lot to the community.
“I think it highlights for the College of Education how important a role we play in the community and just how outstanding our faculty is and our students,” Howell said. “It also reflects on how the university fulfills its mission to meet the need of families and individuals in this region.”
The award required recommendations from faculty, staff and alumni.
Paylo said it wasn’t hard to find past students who were happy with their education.
“We have a number of our students who have been within this community who have been fairly successful. As well as we’ve had a number of other students who have gone on for Ph.D.s and have become counselor educators themselves,” Paylo said. “As well as we’ve had a number of individuals who are adjunct faculty talk about the program from another vantage point.”
With nearly 130 students, counseling is the largest master’s program at YSU. There are tracks in clinical mental health counseling, addiction counseling, school counseling and student affairs/college counseling.
“We’re training individuals to be able to go out and work with other individuals in a host of settings, whether that be at the university setting, whether that be at agencies, or in outpatient or in hospital settings or in schools,” Paylo said.
Howell said the program is incredibly important to the community’s well being.
“There is a huge demand for filling entry level counseling slots,” Howell said. “Often the people in the agencies hire [the students] as soon as they graduate, so it’s a very successful program.”
The counseling program produces students who are able to receive job offers before completing their degree.
“That really has been in all of our tracks,” Paylo said. “I think some of the more recent ones have been in the mental health track where some local agencies have hired individuals, almost at the beginning of their internship. Thus showing not only the quality of the student in our program, but also the need in the community.”
Protivnak said sites compete for interns from YSU.
“They want YSU students, they want our students,” Protivnak said.
Although there is a recognized need across the country, there is also a need in the area.
“I think it’s happening across the country, but even primarily here there is a need for mental health professionals, counselors and individuals who are trained in addiction treatment,” Paylo said.
That need is represented by different problems people have always had and lessened stigma related to seeking help.
“We’re noticing on college campuses that there’s less mental health stigma than there has been historically with regards to seeking services and treatment,” Paylo said. “With that being said, with less stigma there tends to be more need, and to meet that need you need more professionals.”