Island University’s CNEP Named Outstanding Master’s Counselor Education Program by SACES

By Richard Guerrero | Published: December 02, 2020

Island University’s CNEP Named Outstanding Master’s Counselor Education Program by SACES

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Thanks in part to its strong emphasis on community outreach, the Master’s Program in Counseling at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi received the 2020 Outstanding Master’s Counselor Education Program Award from The Southern Association of Counselor Education and Supervision (SACES). 

SACES, which is the southern regional division of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision (ACES), has over 2,000 active members consisting of counselor educators, supervisors, and students from 14 states stretching from Maryland down to Florida and across the Gulf Coast to Texas, according to its website.  

The Department of Counseling & Educational Psychology (CNEP), which supports four entry-level specialty areas, including the first accredited addictions program in the U.S., is part of the College of Education & Human Development at the Island University. CNEP received the Outstanding Doctoral Counselor Education Program Award by ACES in 2007.

Program chair Dr. Joshua Watson said he was pleased to receive the SACES announcement and said the award is a source of pride for the entire CNEP faculty.

“I think it really shows that the work that we’re doing here, the quality of students we’re preparing, the caliber of work that those students are doing as emerging counselors in the local communities and schools is being recognized, and it’s showing that the efforts that we’re putting into it are definitely valued,” Watson said.  

Along with its addictions counseling track, CNEP also offers clinical mental health counseling; marriage, couple, and family counseling; and school counseling. According to CNEP’s Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs Vital Statistics Report for the 2018-2019 academic year, the program had 120 students in its four master’s program specialty areas as of fall 2020.

Dr. Michelle Hollenbaugh, Associate Professor in CNEP, said the department has increased the rigor of its curriculum and admissions process over the past several years.

“We have focused more on evidence-based treatments and moved the comprehensive exam to an international, standardized assessment to ensure knowledge retention and comprehension. All of this work has paid off, as evidenced by our students’ graduation employment rate and 100% National Counselor Examination (NCE) passing rate,” Hollenbaugh said. 

In addition, CNEP has worked to provide several community outreach initiatives.

Under the direction of Dr. Kimberlee Mincey, Clinic Director and Clinical Assistant Professor in Counselor Education, the Counseling and Training Clinic (CTC), located on campus, provides no-cost counseling services to individuals, couples, families and children in a safe environment built on trust. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the CTC is offering Telehealth Services to clients. 

In the Corpus Christi community, CNEP provides marriage, couple, and family counseling services via the “Family Night Out” program that is offered at the Antonio E. Garcia Arts & Education Center, which is located on the city’s Northwest side. The program is overseen by Dr. Kristina Nelson, Assistant Professor in Counselor Education.

Watson said these initiatives provide a robust supervision experience with greater supervisor-supervisee interaction that is helpful to students and their professional development.

“These opportunities allow our students to complete their practicum and internship hours gaining professional experiences working with the local community under the supervision and direction of our faculty,” Watson said. “That is the advantage that our program has: Not only do we have an on-campus clinic, we also have the Garcia Center on the other side of town as well.”20200117-dsc_6762.jpg

Students are also excited to hear the news of the SACES award.

Springfield, Missouri, native Amanda Leckrone, a graduate student in the school counseling track who is graduating in December, said studying in a program that was just named Outstanding Master’s Education Program reinforces how well-equipped she is to enter the counseling field. She points to her internship as a highlight of her experience.

“During my internship, I have had the profound experience of working with clients who experience breakthroughs during sessions,” Leckrone said. “The power of sitting with clients in moments of silence as they reflect on their own words is an experience that is indescribable.”

Utah native Cassandra Castillo said she enrolled in the master’s program in fall 2017 to pursue a degree in clinical mental health.

“I moved to Corpus Christi for my husband’s employment, and so I chose this program because it was convenient, accredited, and highly recommended. I learned throughout my time in the program how exceptional it is,” Castillo said. “I considered moving at one point and began looking into other programs and was surprised to find that there are places that had nothing comparable to the quality of the program I already in.”

Castillo said she especially grateful for her experience at the Counseling and Training Clinic.

“The processes the clinic uses are impeccable and have trained me in a way that leaves me confident to enter the workforce as a qualified beginning counselor,” Castillo said.

Hollenbaugh said while CNEP offers several specialty tracks, all students graduate with the coursework needed to become a Licensed Professional Counselor in Texas. This program design helps the Counseling program at the Island University stand out in comparison to similar programs elsewhere and worthy of awards such as the SACES Outstanding Master’s Education Program Award.

“It’s such an honor to be recognized,” Hollenbaugh said. “It really shows how phenomenal this program is, and I’m so grateful for the colleagues that I work with because they make it phenomenal.”

Additional Information

Additional program highlights include:

  • The Island University received a four-year $1.66 million behavioral workforce training grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration, which was used to initiate the Texas Counselors and Healthcare Integration Project, or Tex-CHIP, in 2017.
  • A new graduate certificate program in counseling Spanish-speaking clients to help address the critical shortage of trained professional counselors who serve the mental health needs of the Spanish-speaking population was developed by Dr. Yvonne Castillo, Professional Assistant Professor in Counselor Education, and Dr. Mary Alice Fernandez in 2016. The first group of graduates walked the stage in the 2018-19 school year.