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April 3, 2003

Community Essay by Reginald Nettles, Director (Retired), University Counseling Center

As many of you may know, I recently retired from the position of Director, University Counseling Services at UMBC. Leaving UCS after 10 years also marks the end of my career in college student mental health, which spans some 30 years. Prior to coming to UMBC, I held several positions in college and university counseling settings, both public and private, in New York City, Washington, D.C., and finally Maryland. I feel privileged to have been able to spend the latter third of my college and university counseling center career at UMBC during this period as it has become one of the premier institutions of higher education in the nation.

While no two colleges or university counseling centers can be the same, I was privileged to have been able to join a counseling center that was already well established with 10 years of full accreditation by The International Association of Counseling Services. IACS accreditation is a prestigious distinction, but its substance is more noteworthy. More than any other set of guidelines, IACS Standards provide the basis for a university counseling center uniquely and intentionally designed with the needs of college and university students, the educational community and its mission in mind.

Individual and group counseling, emergency and crisis intervention services, referral resources, outreach programming, consultation to faculty and staff, program evaluation/research, and training for graduate students in mental health and paraprofessional staff, are all among the core services expected of IACS accredited centers. UCS has held IACS accreditation now for over 20 years, and had its second successful 10-year field visit in 2001. I am grateful for the consultation and guidance of IACS throughout my tenure at UCS.

Between 1995 and 1999, I also served as director of Student Health Services at UMBC. With the collaborative efforts of our UMBC Procurement and Management Advisory Services departments during these difficult years, we were able to salvage a moribund health center, develop its first RFP for Health Insurance for International Students, and develop cash handling procedures that provided for safety and security of its revenues. We were also, with collaboration of the Department of Family Medicine, University of Maryland Medical Systems, able to establish a physician's services contract that has provided the necessary support for the nurse practitioner model to remain viable to date. Sincere thanks to all who made those successes possible.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to the officers of the Division of Student Affairs that I have reported to and learned from since coming to UMBC: Drs. Susan T. Kitchen, Charles (Tot) Woolston, Charles Fey, Deb Moriarty, and finally Felicia McGinty, for various periods. I know I am not alone in owing a debt of gratitude to UMBC's President, Freeman Hrabowski. Over the years, Dr. Hrabowski has referred many students to me and to others at UCS. Always caring and concerned, and equally respectful of their privacy, his understanding of college student development and the work of UCS has been a constant source of support throughout my tenure at UMBC.

Many highly skilled and dedicated staff members have also made my stay at UMBC rewarding. Dr. Bonnie Johnsen, who interviewed me for the job at the American Psychological Association Convention in Washington, D.C., August 1992, and Jaheda Begum, UCS Office Supervisor and Administrative Assistant, for eight years, together have kept UCS afloat through the leanest of times. Drs. Wendy Buskey and Keum-Hyeong Choi of UCS will continue to work with Dr. Johnsen and now Interim Director Nancy West in the months to come.

Last, but certainly not least, my sincere thanks to the many students of UMBC who have allowed me the honor and privilege of sharing your confidences and innermost struggles as you unburden, and journey on to fulfillment of your dreams. Your trust is nothing short of sacred. I am grateful to each of you for sharing so freely and honor you for having had the courage to do so. My work with each of you has been most important and fulfilling throughout my career in college student mental health. Thank you.

On a sad note, UCS has been ravaged by the current statewide budget crisis and hiring freeze. UCS will be down to three full-time psychologists after April 1, its lowest level on record. The number of students at UMBC is now at an all time high of over 11,700, and the residence hall population is now over 3,000. In addition, the new organizational structure for UCS, driven by budget constraints, leaves UCS at risk for loosing its IACS accreditation.

We have learned a great deal about college students and their mental health needs over the last 30 years. Increases in utilization of college and university counseling services nationally are well known. The stresses of college student life are measurably higher than in decades past. Many major universities are augmenting their campus mental health services because of the increased need among students. It is my hope that the university leadership team will find the funds needed to replenish UCS staff to a level that would permit it to continue to provide vital supports to increasingly higher percentages of UMBC students. Thank you for giving it your best shot!

Posted by dwinds1 at April 3, 2003 12:00 AM