JSC’s Behavioral Sciences department is revamping its graduate counseling program this fall with the hiring of Dr. Kim Donovan and her husband Dr. Dan Weigel.
The duo will fill the position vacated by former counseling program director David Fink, who retired last year after 28 years at JSC.
As licensed mental health counselors, Donovan and Weigel bring over 20 years each of counseling supervision in addition to crisis and disaster counseling from various points in the United States.
Weigel will provide the counseling program with his expertise as a nationally certified substance abuse and addictions counselor. Donovan and Weigel both have experience in suicide prevention, intervention and postvention (support for suicide victims’ families and friends).
After three years of interviewing at different schools in the country, Donovan and Weigel say that they find comfort in JSC’s small, yet, inclusive and interconnected campus. “What really stood out to us when we came for our campus visit was just how collegial the faculty were and how friendly and warm the campus was even though it was January,” said Donovan, who calls Kansas City, Missouri her hometown. “The students everywhere we went seemed happy, supportive; it just seemed like a really good learning environment.”
“The whole environment is healing here,” said Weigel of his new home. “It’s just really nice in Vermont. There are so many opportunities.”
Both new arrivals admit that they will need some adjustment to having four seasons having come from the arid climate of Oklahoma. Though, they say Vermont allows their kids to experience the northeast in a way that they have only read about thus far.
As for their new positions, Weigel, a South Dakota native, says that while he and Donovan will add their expertise to the graduate counseling program, its core course offerings will remain intact as both the program and the college transition into Northern Vermont University (NVU).
“I think that our experiences as teachers and counselors allows us to come in and provide our own experiences to the courses that are here,” said Weigel. “Maybe to offer some new electives that haven’t been offered or haven’t been offered for a while. We have a lot of shared experience to offer, but we also realize that there’s a very long and solid history in this counseling program. So we’re working on adding to and building upon the legacy of the program. Sharing what we have to offer is part of that transition.”
Part of Weigel’s position, according to Professor of Psychology Dr. Gina Mireault, entails the development of a state-linked program to help mental health professionals receive certification in substance abuse and addictions counseling.
Because of Donovan and Weigel’s experience in the mental health profession, Mireault says that any initial worries after Fink retired have been eased since their hiring.
“This program is really theirs to take the helm — they’re going to be putting their stamp on it,” said Mireault. “The program’s really ready for that, it’s in good shape, but it’s also ready for this next phase in its life and its development.”
Donovan and Weigel’s arrival also coincides with the development of Lyndon’s graduate counseling program in coordination with JSC’s, a process Donovan and Weigel will serve in as key coordinators.
“We are planning on these two graduate programs being completely unified so that they won’t be programs that stand alone,” said Mireault. “They will be synchronized and unified and taught together; students will be able to access courses at each campus. We just had our first meeting with both faculties together, specific to graduate programming. We’re all on the same page and expect that a graduate program will be delivered across campuses.”
At JSC, meanwhile, Donovan and Weigel will help their students navigate their internships with their clinical-based Mental Health Internship and Seminar. In addition, Weigel will teach Counseling Theories and Legal and Ethical Issues, while Donovan will teach Family Counseling.
A key part of her work in counselor education, Donovan says, is establishing a nonjudgmental forum for communication so that students themselves and their classmates may feel safe in expressing themselves. “I think that’s part of a counseling program that’s unique compared to a lot of graduate programs,” said Donovan.
“There’s a big focus on who you are as a person and self-exploration to be able to work well and connect with clients” she said. “If you don’t know who you are, it’s really hard to help clients through their struggles and to help them heal.”
Despite being just three weeks into their JSC careers, Donovan and Weigel hope to add disaster and crisis counseling into the graduate program to complement their students’ selection of family counseling and drug and alcohol counseling courses.
Donovan says they have already received feedback that graduate students would like to take a disaster and crisis counseling course as an elective for 2018.
Donovan and Weigel, who are also American Red Cross volunteers, say that their experiences with working in crisis and disaster settings have equipped them with the ability to teach and work with others during times of emotional and mental trauma.
As Donovan recounts her time helping tornado victims in Moore, Oklahoma, Weigel summons his memories of walking lines of people affected to by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City to offer support.
“It doesn’t matter how strong or resilient you may think you are until you’re put to that kind of test, then you find out how you respond and everyone responds differently,” Weigel said. “That’s where we come in is to help identify those people and connect them with whatever services we can, such as providing disaster counseling on the spot.”
Looking toward their future at NVU-Johnson, Donovan and Weigel say that they are excited to become involved in local and national community building projects, collaborate with other faculty from Johnson and Lyndon on courses, secure grants for new counselor training facilities and design study abroad trips for students.
“We’re coming in with a unique perspective on the merger because we’re just seeing the parts where we can collaborate,” said Weigel. “There’s going to be some challenges there… But from our angle, we’re coming at a time where we’ve known nothing but that adjustment and I think that gives us a fresh perspective.”
“I think this could be really great to have that brand, that name, for our program as we’re coming in,” said Donovan of the college’s upcoming transition to NVU. “We’re just adding to the legacy that was there and putting our stamp on it.”