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Student Practicums Develop Future Practitioners

Through two departments, the Student Counseling Center and Student Conduct and Community Standards, students from multiple UT degree programs participate in experiential learning practicums that not only support their own personal growth but also support the greater student body’s access to services.

Student Counseling Center

Currently, the Student Counseling Center is hosting 10 graduate students either at the master’s or doctoral level. These students are counseling trainees and the cohort is made up of students from both the Department of Psychology in UT’s College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Social Work.

Every member of this cohort provides one-on-one counseling therapy to students in need of services, with one graduate assistant also offering couples therapy. Most practicums are one year in length, with some extending to a second year.

“By offering practicum experiences, we’re able to really broaden the scope of services the
center can provide and ultimately serve more students,” says Jess Westcott, assistant director and director of training at the Student Counseling Center.

Last year’s cohort of 10 student trainees had an incredible impact on students. This class, most of whom have now graduated from the program, served 508 total students through 2,041 appointments. This amounted to 1,514 hours spent with student clients.

Students in the practicum program participate in professional training alongside the full-time staff and are able to learn what the environment is like in the psychology and counseling realm. These students also receive supervision from one or more center staff members according to their educational background and professional goals.

“Supporting students as they identify strengths and areas that need improvement in their approaches to therapy is a key aspect of our training program,” says Westcott. “Together with their supervisor, the student trainees are able to assess what’s going well in their sessions together and which skills they need to develop further.”

Practicum students also complete outreach activities, like giving presentations to classes about managing stress or anxiety. More advanced trainees support the center’s group counseling efforts as observers, facilitators, or co-facilitators. Last year’s cohort spent 35 hours at outreach events throughout the year.

Another unique aspect of the practicum model at the center is that students are able to provide case management and care coordination to students who need longer-term care, supporting growth and well-being for students that extends beyond a short-term counseling relationship. Some students also do brief assessments to help guide students to the most appropriate campus resources to meet their needs, which is a skill that quickly translates to the professional mental health landscape.

Student Conduct and Community Standards

Student Conduct and Community Standards (SCCS) develops student integrity and accountability through an educational, consistent, and equitable conduct process centered on student development. Staff take a restorative and empathetic approach and believe in the philosophy of doing the next right thing after a mistake has been made.

Although the office can issue disciplinary outcomes, most allegations of misconduct are resolved through an educational and developmental approach designed to promote learning and development. Student-centric recommendations help students learn and grow, ultimately developing appropriate decision-making skills as members of the Volunteer community.

Last year, 99% of students who engaged in the conduct process agreed with the outcomes recommended by SCCS staff and resolved their case through an informal pathway rather than a formal hearing.

Director Amanda Samsel attributes part of this success to their work with graduate and practicum students. Over the past five years, the office has hosted 23 total graduate and practicum students from a wide range of programs at UT: the College of Law; the College of Social Work; and multiple programs through the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, including the College Student Personnel program, the Counselor Education program, and the Instructional Technology program. Of these 23 students, 15 now work in higher education, including eight current University of Tennessee employees.

Shaun McComas, assistant director for Student Conduct and Community Standards, is also a licensed social worker, so students from the College of Social Work are able to earn clinical hours under his supervision.

Cumulatively, these practicum students heard more than 2,000 cases over a five-year period. The added support these students provide allows SCCS to remain more student-centric and meet with students in the conduct process quickly.

“These students are not only supporting our team’s efforts but are developing critical skills for the marketplace,” says Samsel. “They’re meeting with students, parents, attorneys, and other stakeholders and developing skills like conflict management, motivational interviewing, and curriculum development.”

Graduate assistants, practicum students, and interns facilitate educational conferences with students in the conduct process, teach and help develop educational sanction courses, assist with assessment and data, and meet with students who are on disciplinary probation. Engaging in the educational process these students are involved in supports growth and leadership on both sides of the equation.

Two award-winning sanction courses were developed by the SCCS student team alongside professional staff: VolsREACH, an ethical decision-making course, and VolsGROW, a digital class centered on human dignity and the role it plays in resolving conflict. Each year, around 150 students participate in an in-person VolsREACH class and hundreds complete unique educational sanctions each academic year.

“Graduate assistants, practicum students, and interns are given a robust experience in our office, and their involvement is integral to helping students grow and develop through the student conduct process,” adds Samsel.

Across the Division of Student Life, departments like Student Conduct and Community Standards and the Student Counseling Center are creating meaningful pathways for students from a multitude of degree programs to become career-ready while contributing to the division’s strategic priorities.