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UW Master’s Student Wins American Counseling Association Essay Contest

April 2, 2018
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Jessica Ryan

A University of Wyoming College of Education graduate student recently was named co-grand prize winner of the American Counseling Association’s (ACA) graduate student essay contest.

The submission of Jessica Ryan, of Grove City, Pa., who’s pursuing her master’s degree in counseling at UW, was selected from over 200 ACA student member submissions. Lynne Shayko, of Kent State University, shared the award.

Ryan’s submission competed under the “Tomorrow’s Counselor” competition. The essay responded to the question, “As a professional counselor, how would you promote openness and inclusion in your work? Furthermore, how would you reach out and support under-served and underrepresented clients?”

In Ryan’s answer, she expressed the need for counselors to become aware of their own biases that have been created by their lenses and life experiences. She explains that these perspectives are not wrong or bad, but that those in the profession must recognize and confront these biases so as to not let them influence their treatment of colleagues and clients.

The first step she will make to promote openness and inclusion, she wrote, is to create a compassionate and safe space within herself to confront the difficult experiences from her life that could influence her actions. She also will foster difficult and honest conversations with people who have experiences different from her own in order become a better counselor.

“I am pursuing a degree in counseling to support people through the process of becoming themselves,” Ryan wrote. “I eventually want to combine counseling with my previous work in personal growth, mindfulness and yoga. I hope to use all of those modalities to address intergenerational and systemic trauma; how our bodies hold individual and cultural life experiences; and advocate for mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health for all beings.”

Ryan cites UW President Laurie Nichols’ commitment to first-generation college students and other underrepresented groups as something she admires at UW.

“As a female, first-generation college student, I know that student loans; unshared experiences from families, classmates and instructors; and a perceived lack of support can make going to college daunting,” Ryan says. “It’s nice to know that there are UW administrators who are in these students’ corners.”

Ryan and the other awardees will travel to the ACA 2018 Conference and Expo in Atlanta April 25-26 to be honored at an awards ceremony. Their essays will be published in a midyear edition of Counseling Today magazine.

The ACA has supported graduate students through scholarship awards for attendance at the ACA Conference and Expo, by supporting the Graduate Student/New Professional Center and including special education events at the annual conference. The association hopes this support will help more counseling students become involved in the profession.

“I have seen a lot of despair, yet I have so much faith and belief in resiliency, healing and love,” Ryan says. “If we can find those things within ourselves, we are better equipped to find ways of offering them to others.”

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