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Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965
Current Issue: October 20, 2003
Volume 39, Number 7

Traversing the community
COE students gain real world counseling experience

By Laurie Mellas Ramirez

Coffield, front, and Rifenbary at the Traverse exhibit in Travelstead Hall. Photo by Laurie Mellas Ramirez.

Service learning is a 21st century, higher education buzzword. Exceptional in theory, to put a viable program into practice takes extreme dedication on the part of faculty, students and professionals in the community.

The Counselor Education Traverse program in the UNM College of Education has blossomed into a service-learning model bridging a gap between the university and greater Albuquerque. Students step outside traditional classroom boundaries to provide service and meet real public need while learning and fulfilling requirements for graduate degrees in counseling.

UNM students gain experience while working under close supervision at elementary, middle and high schools, detention facilities, shelters, health and career services and other support agencies.

“Knowledge without experience is like learning to swim without getting in the water. Traverse throws you in the pool and provides several lifeguards so you don’t drown,” said graduate student Kim Corwin.

Tossing lifelines as needed are UNM counseling faculty as well as school, mental health and other professionals serving as mentors in the field.

Funded through the College of Education Dean’s Office for the past several years, the Traverse program has existed since 1995. It got its start after Deborah Rifenbary, Ph.D., associate professor, and Wayne Maes, Ph.D., UNM professor emeritus, found that teaching counseling classes off campus at a local school offered a stimulating, real world environment for students. Gene Coffield, Ph.D, was asked to develop the program and was hired as coordinator.

Traverse stands out because it puts students into the service environment early in their graduate work, Coffield said. A tight structure along with feedback provided by site supervisors and students helped further refine and strengthen the program.

Corwin was placed with the New Mexico School for the Deaf in Santa Fe where he participated in staff meetings.

“I gained a greater appreciation for the counseling profession,” Corwin said. “Even though I did not provide any direct services, I was able to see how an effective team sets the plan for effective service. At times I was struck with the conversation going on. We were involved in saving lives. It was rewarding.”

Elaine Prentice, school counselor for La Cueva High School, serves as a site supervisor and mentor.

“Having a Traverse student always helps me clarify for myself why I do what I do. It also benefits our program by encouraging us to pass on the skills and collective knowledge we have acquired through many years in the field,” Prentice said.

Rifenbary, who coordinates the Counselor Education program for the college, said the caliber of graduates is telling of the program’s success. Albuquerque Public Schools named Kim Chavez, class of ‘01, “Counselor of the Year” last spring. Now a counselor at Alameda Elementary School, while in the UNM Counseling Program, she completed a pre-internship in the Traverse program assisting school counselor Geri Lynn Paiz-Chavez at Los Padillas Elementary.

“I loved my experiences at UNM,” Chavez said. “Last year I had a Traverse student as an intern here at Alameda.”

Ellen Armbruster completed her master’s in counseling in 1998 and went to work at the Santa Fe Rape Crisis Center. She is now a second year doctoral student working closely with many of Traverse’s 38 site supervisors. “The sites are generally happy with the students and feel that they add to their programs,” Armbruster said. “Traverse bridges the process of learning how to be a counselor with actually being a counselor.”

Two doctoral students at UNM based their dissertations on the program and John F. Arman, class of ’98, with David Scherer, Counselor Education faculty, coauthored a scholarly article on the benefits of Traverse published in the Journal of Humanistic Counseling, Education and Development, Spring 2002, Volume 41.

Another program component is the UNM faculty’s relationship with field site supervisors. Faculty share expertise and help those working in the community remain current with contemporary trends in counseling and mental health. Loan Phan, Ph.D., and Markus Bidell, Ph.D., teach COE classes requiring a Traverse component and “are committed to fully integrating service learning in their courses,” Coffield said.

Among the other benefits of service learning is the opportunity for students to explore a variety of interests while still in school. Coffield facilitates “process groups” at the end of each semester so classmates can share experiences.

For more information on Traverse, call Gene Coffield, 277-7098.