Mercer University’s College of Professional Advancement received a nearly $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education this past October. The grant will finance students in the Clinical Rehabilitation program who are training to become vocational rehabilitation counselors.
A vocational rehabilitation counselor works with people with a variety of physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. Program coordinator Kristina Henderson said that their counselors aid clients in seeking employment and creating career goals, as well as provide psycho-social counseling.
“Think about the isolation that comes along with not having a career or occupational goal that you feel proud of,” Henderson said. “Vocational rehabilitation specifically, the government agency, is set up specifically to help people find employment.”
However, in the state of Georgia and nationally, there are not enough trained counselors to meet the need for them.
“We have a lot of personnel shortages,” Suneetha Manyam, the project manager for the grant, said. “There are not enough people with the credentials.”
Part of this is due to an increasing population of Americans living with disabilities, Henderson said.
“More and more people have disabilities … people are surviving things they wouldn’t have before. Medical treatment is so much better than it used to be,” she said. “What this program is doing is preparing people to work with people with disabilities … there are a lot of people with disabilities on campus, that there weren’t before.”
The Rehabilitation Service Administration Long Term Training Grant is intended to address this shortage. The grant will allow RSA scholars to be awarded tuition, stipend, internship and practicum opportunities and the option to travel to a variety of conferences across the country.
“It is a high-impact grant, I think, because it is funding eight scholars for five years,” Manyam said. “I am very proud of this grant and our scholars, and I’m honored to serve as the project director for this grant.”
Students graduate with the ability to become a certified rehabilitation counselor nationally, as well as licensed to work in the state of Georgia. Graduates will be able to enter a variety of jobs in rehabilitation counseling. Students are required to work for two years in a state agency upon graduating, Manyam said.
Henderson said that Mercer’s Clinical Rehabilitation Counseling program is training students that are skilled counselors who are also very passionate about the work they’re doing. The program also works to increase awareness surrounding disability and promote accessibility for people with disabilities, she said.
“A big part of our goal is just that our students are going to come away being advocates for people with disabilities and for making those changes that make our environment more inclusive,” Henderson said. “The grant is a great step forward in helping us do that because it gives some of our students the opportunity to go to school and do this degree that they wouldn’t be able to do otherwise.”