Scanlan Center for School Mental Health
Workforce Expansion Graduate Students

Scanlan’s Grad Squad: How the Workforce Expansion Program is Filling a Critical Need

News

The Scanlan Center for School Mental Health was established in June 2021 to meet a critical need for mental health services in Iowa’s PreK-12 schools.  

Schools, students, and educators were recovering and reestablishing routines following the Covid-19 pandemic. The effects of the pandemic, social isolation, and academic pressures were compounding.  

Because the demand for comprehensive PreK-12 school-based mental health services was on the rise, the Scanlan Center channeled efforts around one of the state’s most pressing issues – the dire shortage of school mental health providers (SMHPs) – school counselors, psychologists, and social workers.

According to the American School Counselor Association and National Center for Education Statistics, as of December 2022, the ratio of Iowa school counselors to students was 370:1. The recommended ratio is 250:1. The 2022 State of Mental Health in America Report also ranked Iowa 45th in the nation for mental health workforce availability. 

To address the acute shortage and provide training opportunities for the next generation of SMHPs, the Scanlan Center’s Workforce Expansion Graduate Student (WEGs) Program was born in September 2022.

Expanding the Workforce for the Future 

Dr. Gerta Bardhoshi, professor of counselor education and Scanlan Center director of research and training, spearheaded the development of the two-year multidisciplinary WEG program. Her aim? To grow the school mental health workforce and drive the adoption of best practices in Iowa’s classrooms.  

Through this program, twenty doctoral students across diverse disciplines have received funding support. 

“We are lucky to have doctoral programs focused on counseling, psychology, and special education. Across programs, we see an acute interest from students to expand their skillset in working with adolescents and schools,” Bardhoshi said. “Providing interdisciplinary training on school mental health research not only enhances available student training and opportunities, but it also addresses a critical national and state need for advancing school mental health.” 

As part of the extensive two-year curriculum, students received specialized training on cutting-edge research and clinical practices to effectively improve social-emotional-behavioral health (SEBH) outcomes in schools. 

Affectionally known within the Scanlan Center as WEGs, this cohort of students has benefited from the unique opportunity to expand their knowledge far beyond their individual doctoral coursework. A variety of professional development training has informed them about suicide prevention, play therapy, conducting research, and more. 

Many WEGs were integral in supporting Scanlan Center projects like a mental health awareness curriculum for educators, mindfulness classroom interventions, practice briefs for educators, the Iowa BEST Summit, and the school mental health blog. Students developed a cross-disciplinary understanding through their professional development engagement, clinical and research experiences, and by creating connections with other WEGs, staff, and faculty at the University of Iowa. 

Some WEGs also gained experience working at the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health Clinic. The clinic offered WEGs the opportunity to discover their passions and strengths in a clinical setting in their early years of their doctoral programs.  

Ashley Rila, Scanlan Center research and training project coordinator, has advised and mentored the WEGs. Rila has seen first-hand the lasting impact of the program. 

“The unique interdisciplinary learning opportunities for the WEGs has sparked numerous intellectual inquiries and collaborations. The growth they’ve made during their time within the Scanlan Center has been exciting,” Rila said. “Several have already provided workshops to K-12 youth and educators, disseminated research at professional conferences, and used their writing skills to share essential school-based mental health information.” 

While the program is ending in July 2024, its impact will continue to be felt as the WEGs carry their learning forward into their future careers and take their expertise into the field. 

Read more about the WEGs and how they plan to contribute to the school mental health field moving forward: 

Alex Reed, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education  

Alex Reed working with student

A second-year doctoral student, Alex Reed has spent his time as a WEG working with the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health clinic, providing both individual and group therapy.  

“A lot of times in education we get the literature and worksheets without the practical application,” Reed said. “I really appreciate the fact that I got to learn in class and then through the clinic, take and apply those skills.” 

Reed, who has always had an interest in athlete mental health, found himself in a perfect situation when Iowa City area coaches approached the Scanlan Center clinic about hosting an athlete wellness group for their teams.  

“We went over skills in mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. These skills can help improve performance on the floor, court, or mat, but in the grander perspective of things, they’re also just good life skills,” he said.  

While assisting with group therapy sessions, Reed realized his passion for clinical work and gift for serving young athletes. He feels lucky for the chance to uncover this calling while in the early stage of his doctoral degree, as many do not have this insight until they are practicing clinicians.  

Anticipated to graduate in spring 2028, he attributes the “slew of WEG training opportunities” to better preparing him for the varying situations he will encounter in his work post-graduation, and for deepening his overall understanding of the mental health field.  

Post-graduation, he wants to become a sports and performance psychologist, helping athletes reach their mental health and performance goals.  

Bethany Walczak, School Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Bethany Walczak, a third-year doctoral student, has spent her time as a WEG digging into school mental health research. 

Walczak was introduced to meta-analyses, statistical combinations of results from studies, during a summer workshop. The Scanlan Center then challenged the WEGs to submit proposals for their own meta-analysis projects. Rising to this occasion, Walczak’s meta-analysis proposal was chosen for funding. 

During the past academic year, she has immersed herself in research, working on her meta-analysis proposal while also leading her own project team. Walczak was assigned two other Scanlan Center WEGs to be part of her research team, and together, they are studying how mindfulness-based interventions for teachers during COVID impacted their job satisfaction, burnout levels, and rates of anxiety and depression. Her team has selected 15 articles for the final study after examining more than 1,800 articles. 

Walczak credits the opportunity to conduct her own meta-analyses and manage a research team as deeply impactful for her future.  

“I’m interested in potentially working as a professor in some capacity,” Walczak said. “So having this experience of working on research with other people, teaching and leading them, will definitely help prepare me for that.”  

Her time as a WEG has also underscored the importance of getting community buy in for mental health efforts.  

“When communities have a range of demographics and understanding of mental health concerns, it can be challenging to move efforts forward,” said Walczak, who is anticipated to graduate in spring 2027. 

Doing hands-on work in schools and communities has taught Walczak how to disseminate approachable best practices to these populations, and garner stakeholder support for important programs and initiatives aimed at improving mental health. 

Carlos Mendieta, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Carlos Mendieta is a first-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program. While new to both the University of Iowa and the WEG program in August 2023, Mendieta hit the ground running. 

Mendieta wholeheartedly embraced the professional development training offered to WEGs, and frequently volunteered for outreach events. He is also fervently invested in hands-on school mental health research. 

“I really enjoy the research. I’m always trying to improve, and a lot of these things I did not know existed before getting here,” Mendieta said. 

One of Mendieta’s most substantial research projects was in partnership with another WEG student, Matthew McMurray. Together, they are conducting a literature review using artificial intelligence on coping and emotion regulation on psychopathology for adolescents. 

Furthering his research experience, Mendeita proactively applied to present their project at the 2024 Great Lakes Regional Counseling Psychology Conference. He was accepted and presented on April 13, 2024.  

Upon graduation in spring 2029, he plans to apply his WEG experience through teaching, mentoring students, research, and working with veterans.  

Mendieta is thankful for his time as a WEG for providing him with a plethora of interdisciplinary learning experiences and research opportunities, which he notes are typically hard to find in counseling psychology doctoral programs. 

This trio represents just a few of the many talented WEGs. Below are the other students who are also making their mark:

Alex Persons, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education  

Alex Persons has worked with the Scanlan Center clinic, creating B.R.I.E.F.S. videos that help beginning student clinicians become familiar with various modalities of therapy. After his anticipated graduation in spring 2027, he wants to work in private practice providing therapy and assessments.  

Samara Harms, School Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Samara Harms

Samara Harms has dedicated her time to the Scanlan Center clinic, helping complete initial consultations and organize data for the Educator Empowerment group counseling offerings. Upon graduation in spring 2028, she plans to work first as a school psychologist, and then pivot to clinical work with adolescents who are at-risk of school dropout and those with depression and/or anxiety. 

Tyler Gray, Counselor Education and Supervision, University of Iowa College of Education 

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Tyler Gray served as a student clinician for the Scanlan Center clinic, helping develop an online therapy group for youth with experience in the foster care system. After her anticipated graduation in spring 2027, she plans to continue clinical practice, supporting students with attachment disorders, while also conducting research to support foster care youth.  

Collin Glazek, School Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Collin Glazek

Collin Glazek has worked on the Neolth project, a mental wellness program for high school students, and the BEST+Well project, which delivers mental health awareness training to Iowa educators. Upon his expected spring 2028 graduation, he plans to enter academia to work with students and conduct research.  

Matthew McMurray, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Matthew McMurray

Matthew McMurray has led a project team in conducting a systemic literature review and creating an evidence-gap map to show the available research and areas where more attention is needed. After his anticipated spring 2027 graduation, he hopes to serve as a therapist in a community setting.   

Claire McCall, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Claire McCall has assisted with the Educator Burnout survey, Iowa Higher Education Mental Health project, and 2024 Iowa School Mental Health Awards. Upon her expected graduation in spring 2027, she wants to work with adolescents and young adults in her own private practice.

Anna Holowicki, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Anna Holowicki

Anna Holowicki helped coordinate research practice briefs, collaborating with school mental health experts to turn intricate research into bite-sized, palatable information for educators and school staff to use in daily work. After her anticipated graduation in spring 2028, she plans to work in a hospital completing psychological assessments that assess intellectual functioning. 

Jacey Henrichs, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Jacey Henrichs worked on the Higher Education Mental Health project, helping to expand knowledge of mental health and well-being practices across Iowa community colleges, engaged in qualitative analysis for therapeutic classrooms, and organized the research lunch series. Upon her anticipated graduation in spring 2028, she hopes to serve as a psychologist in a community-based setting, preferably in a rural area. 

Benson Bunker, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

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Benson Bunker has helped create an evidence-gap map depicting research around internalizing/externalizing pathologies and coping strategies, while also conducting qualitative work on therapeutic classrooms. He plans to provide private practice therapy and serve as an adjunct instructor after his anticipated graduation in spring 2027. 

Raechel Popeck, Counseling Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Raechel Popeck has helped adapt and develop a universal curriculum for high school students to increase their knowledge about mental health and stress management. She plans to do mental health work in rural and underserved areas after her anticipated graduation in spring 2028. 

Beth Provis, School Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

Beth Provis

Beth Provis has assisted another WEGs on a meta-analysis project studying mindfulness interventions for teachers and is also conducting a 50-year review of the Behavioral Disorders journal. She hopes to pursue a clinical career, assisting with treatment for challenging behaviors after her graduation in spring 2028. 

Elizabeth Freiburger, School Psychology, University of Iowa College of Education 

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Elizabeth Freiburger has worked on the BEST+Well curriculum, expanding her knowledge of the role educators play in students’ mental health. After her anticipated graduation in spring 2028, she plans to work with individuals with developmental disabilities and challenging behaviors.