First class of counseling graduates already meeting success

PLAINVIEW – On August 11, Plainview residents Joe and Elizabeth Hernandez added a set of firsts to their resumes. They were in the first class of graduates for the Master of Arts in Counseling program at Wayland Baptist University, and they were the first husband and wife to complete the program together.

Started just two summers ago, 24 individuals have completed the MAC. Several participated in the commencement ceremony this past May because of their hours completed, while the remainder of the first “class” will participate in the December ceremony. Officially, however, the degrees were completed on Aug. 11. The couple is just one success story as another student, Jeremy Berry, is soon to begin a doctoral program in counseling as the first MAC graduate to do so.

Finishing their coursework was freeing for both Joe and Elizabeth, as they have worked toward the master’s degrees while working full-time and serving as pastors of Salem Baptist Church in Lockney, a Hispanic congregation. And while the ink on their transcripts is barely dry, Joe said the couple is already seeing benefits from their newfound knowledge.

“We’ve found with our experience that we’re already applying it in the ministry of the church and are using it to help others,” said Joe, who got a job at Allegiance Behavioral Health Center in June thanks to the degree. “We were doing some of those things before, but it’s more rewarding now that we know what we’re doing. We know it will be helpful to us in our ministry work.”

The Hernandezes said the MAC program at Wayland was appealing to them because of the convenience and because they both earned undergraduate degrees at WBU and the university was familiar. With courses scheduled on weekends and online, the two-year program was easier to work into their busy lifestyles. And though it was a lot of work, being able to share that experience was also a plus.

“We took a trip just before our last session and while I drove, Elizabeth read one of the books out loud, then I read while she drove,” Joe said. “We were able to read two books for the class on our vacation and then talk about it. We had a regular routine the whole time of studying together for classes and that helped.”

Another side benefit to the program, laughs Joe, is the two years of therapy that students essentially receive as they learn how to counsel others through their problems.

“When we studied every technique and theory, we’d pair off and role play and we had to share real-life issues we experienced, knowing the confidentiality of the group, and those sessions were so tremendously helpful,” Joe said. “We really made some good friends as we went through all this together. After two years of sharing and crying and laughing together, you open up and you’re drawn together like a family.”

A second-grade teacher at Hillcrest, Elizabeth wants to eventually move into a school counselor role with her degree. Down the road, the couple dreams of opening a Christian family counseling practice to be able to minister to the community, specifically the Hispanic population for which they have such a heart.

Berry represents another success story for the fledgling program, as he prepares to enter the doctoral program at Texas Tech University in counselor education and supervision, a program known for being highly selective. While completing the doctorate, Berry plans to work full-time at Central Plains MHMR Center in Plainview, where he recently went to work as an admissions intake counselor.

Two of Berry’s research manuscripts were recently approved for publication as well, and he was invited to make two presentations at the American Counseling Association’s national conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, in March 2008. Both represent major achievements for Berry, who holds an undergraduate degree from WBU earned in 2003 and then earned his MAC and the Master of Arts in Management at the same time.

Berry’s research has dealt with eating disorders and the impact on women in various facets, work he continued from his professors in the MAC program, associate professor of psychology Dr. Perry Collins (and coordinator of the MAC) and his wife, Dr. Cassie Collins, assistant professor of psychology. A paper on the effect of eating disorders on women’s sexuality was accepted for the Wisconsin counseling journal, and the Ohio state counseling journal accepted a literature review on counseling university students of Taiwanese descent. Eight others are out for consideration.

His presentations to the ACA conference involve the impact of eating disorders on the family and friends of women and an overview of the obsessive cycles of women with eating disorders.

A native of San Antonio, Berry said the master’s degree in counseling was a great fit for him since he has an interest in a private counseling practice or teaching at the college level. Both the classwork and the experience have been beneficial, he said.

“The work has already opened doors for me to be able to visit with other educators in the field, and that will help me in the future,” Berry said. “I have learned so much in the research process as well.”

According to Dr. Estelle Owens, chair of the Division of Social Sciences at Wayland which oversees the MAC program, the degree has attracted great interest, much to the delight of the university.

“We thought if we started with 10 students, we’d be happy and could build it up. But we started with 50 and were thrilled from the very beginning,” Owens said. “There are about 150 students in the program systemwide now, and 100 of those are here in Plainview.”

Owens said the success and great demand led the university to expand the MAC program to its campuses in Hawaii, San Antonio and Phoenix, and future plans are to add it to the lineup at still more campuses. The need is definitely there, Owens says.

“I think a lot of the success is because we are who we are,” she explained. “There is a lot of demand for private, faith-based master’s programs, especially like this one. There weren’t many in the region offering it. There was also a dry spell out here, and a lot of students couldn’t do the traditional programs offered close by. Because the scheduling is unique, the program has allowed many more students to take advantage of it.”

The program has attracted a diverse group of students as far as age and ethnicity, and Owens feels the varied campuses provide exposure and interaction with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, especially through the online offerings. On the Plainview campus, MAC students come from a wide region, some driving as far as Gainesville and Portales, N.M. to attend the weekend courses. But with the ability to complete the program in two years – provided students take the two courses each term, four terms per year – Owens feels the enrollment will continue to grow. Perry Collins feels the same way.

“I knew we would have a big group the first time through, but we thought it would level off by now,” he said. “Instead it seems to be growing.”

Owens credited much of the program’s success to Collins, who coordinates the program and has served as a major recruiter for it. Collins added the program has attracted a student population with various career goals. While several teachers entered the degree program hoping to become school counselors, others want to do community counseling in fields ranging from senior adults to substance abuse and addiction counseling.

For more information on the Master of Arts in Counseling, contact the graduate admissions office at 291-3414.