ATLANTA/MACON – Eight Mercer University counseling graduate students were recently selected as Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Scholars and will receive funding from the College of Professional Advancement’s second near-million dollar grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

This year’s RSA Scholars are Justus Bowland-Gleason, Camille Anne Brust, Noah Stewart Donovan Cole, F. Murray Ford, Lillie McLean, Rayvin Townsend, Kaytlyn Trower and Dianne Wisham. They will receive funding for six part-time to nine full-time credit hours over three semesters to pursue the Master of Science degree in clinical rehabilitation counseling.

All scholars also receive a stipend for books and living expenses for each of the three semesters, as well as travel reimbursement for attendance and scholarly presentations at National Council on Rehabilitation Education conferences.

Upon completion of their degree, scholars commit to working at any State Vocational Rehabilitation Agency or other eligible employment site for each academic year they receive funding.

“I am extremely proud of our scholars and their passion to serve individuals with disabilities,” said Dr. Suneetha Manyam, professor of counseling and project director of the RSA grant. “Their commitment to social change through rehabilitation research and advocacy is commendable.”

Bowland-Gleason graduated from the University of West Georgia with a B.S. in psychology and a minor in sociology. “I chose rehabilitation counseling because of my knack for psychology in the counseling perspective, and also because the need for knowledgeable, supportive and qualified rehabilitation counselors in the U.S. is at a critical point, especially in low socioeconomic areas with individuals who are unaware of their limitless possibilities,” he said. “Helping those in need has always been a goal of mine, and this scholarship has helped me in more ways than one on my journey to achieve it. My big picture goal is to own a research center from which I will be able to practice. From there, I hope to expand the center to be a one-stop shop for improving and maintaining mental, physical and spiritual health.”

Brust graduated from the University of South Florida in her hometown of Tampa, Florida, with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a minor in applied behavioral analysis. “I am honored to be receiving the highly sought-after RSA grant,” she said. “This grant will help me achieve my goal of assisting individuals with disabilities achieve success and independence in their careers, and it will also give me the opportunity to educate companies on what role they can play in supporting individuals who they hire with disabilities, and also how they can foster success not just for the company but for the individual.”

Cole graduated from the University of Georgia with a Bachelor of Science in psychology and a minor in public health. “My goals are eventually to work for an organization that helps veterans with PTSD recover and fully reintegrate into society following deployments,” he said. “The RSA Scholarship has been such an honor to receive. The tenets and beliefs behind the scholarship align with my career aspirations, and it is rewarding to know that I will be able to give back and work with such an honorable community of people. Eventually, I’d like to earn my Ph.D. and participate in disability dedicated research.”

Ford holds a Bachelor of Science in political science from the University of Central Arkansas and a Master of Education from Georgia State University. “As an African American male growing up in the South who has managed a physical disability my entire life, I know the importance of diverse representation in this specific field,” he said. “This scholarship will help because I would like to start a small business or nonprofit organization and graduating with the least amount of debt possible is a major boost to my education, as well as my future business.”

McLean holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and a Juris Doctor and has worked as a licensed attorney for the past 15 years. She has advocated for employers/clients in the government, private and nonprofit sectors. Her work in alternative dispute resolution, combined with her personal experiences supporting family members, led her to pursue the M.S. in clinical rehabilitation counseling. “I am humbled by my selection as an RSA Scholar and the level of support and opportunity it offers,” she said. “I welcome the chance to expand my advocacy by supporting others to improve their quality of life though counseling.” McLean plans to open or join a practice serving clients in underrepresented communities facing disability-based mental and/or emotional trauma.

Townsend holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and works in the substance abuse field. She has always aspired to have her own counseling practice with the goal of helping individuals and families not just overcome addiction but thrive. “I am so grateful to be one of the few chosen for this grant. It is an amazing opportunity that has opened the door to a successful future,” she said. “With the RSA grant, I am looking forward to aiding veterans in assimilating living with a disability and maintaining their mental health.” Townsend plans to earn her master’s degree and obtain her LPC, CRC and CADC II.

Trower is a two-time RSA grant recipient in her second year in the clinical rehabilitation counseling program at Mercer. Originally from Stratford, Connecticut, she graduated from Hampton University. “The RSA Grant has created so many networking opportunities for me,” she said. “I plan on opening my own private practice to help children with special needs thrive through rehabilitation. I look forward to all that the RSA grant has to offer and the positive connections I will make within the program.”

Wisham had 30 years of experience as a graphic designer before deciding to change careers. When reflecting on her life, she noticed a common theme: her friends often brought their difficulties to her with positive results, so counseling seemed a logical choice. After earning her Bachelor of Science in psychology, summa cum laude, earlier this year, she decided to pursue clinical rehabilitation counseling for its holistic approach and dual licensure. “Being chosen as an RSA Scholar is an extraordinary honor and affirmation that I am where I am supposed to be,” she said. Upon completing the program, she aspires to work with older individuals because of the increasing size of that population and the corresponding need for counselors.

The mission of Mercer’s clinical rehabilitation counseling program is to prepare rehabilitation counselors to provide rehabilitation services aimed at helping individuals with disabilities to achieve their maximum potential. Upon graduation, students have the basic foundational knowledge, skill and experiences necessary to enter the profession of rehabilitation counseling and practice as rehabilitation counselors.  Graduates are eligible to become both Certified Rehabilitation Counselors and Licensed Professional Counselors.

“Our program is young, with the first cohort beginning in 2013, but our students are dedicated, passionate and fierce advocates for persons with disabilities,” said Dr. Kristina Henderson, program coordinator for the clinical rehabilitation counseling program. “We have a growing presence both in the disability field in Georgia and across the nation, with graduates working in the Veterans Administration, private practice, outpatient care facilities, insurance companies and state vocational rehabilitation agencies. Students are presenting at national conferences and advocating in our communities. Our pass rate on national exams for certification and licensure have been far above the national average, and I could not be prouder of our students.”

About the College of Professional Advancement

Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement is committed to serving post-traditional learners. Undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs are offered to adult learners seeking professional advancement into leadership roles in and beyond their communities. Programs provide students with distinctive, multidisciplinary experiences that integrate theory and practice. In addition to providing general education and elective courses for various colleges and schools at Mercer, the College of Professional Advancement offers degree programs in areas including technology, public safety, public and human services, leadership and administration, health care and liberal arts. Programs are offered on Mercer’s campuses in Atlanta and Macon, as well as Regional Academic Centers in Douglas County and Henry County, and online. To learn more, visit professionaladvancement.mercer.edu.

Kyle is the director of media relations at Mercer. In addition to being the primary media contact for most academic and administrative units of the university, he coordinates hometown and university news releases and serves as editor of the News@Mercer e-newsletter and Reach magazine.​