Counseling wins Innovative Program Award

counseling award 2014

Faculty and staff in the Counseling Program in the Department of Counseling, Special Education and School Psychology are, from the left, Administrative Assistant Cindy Sarnowski, Professor Don Martin, Assistant Professor Kyoung Mi Choi, Professor Kenneth Miller, Professor Victoria Kress, Associate Professor and Chair Jake Protivnak, and Assistant Professor Cassandra Pusateri. Not pictured is Associate Professor Matt Paylo.

The Counseling Program at Youngstown State University is the recipient of the 2014 North Central Association for Counselor Education and Supervision Innovative Counseling Program Award.

The award was presented earlier this fall at the NCACES Conference in St. Louis. NCACES represents 13 states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, & Wisconsin.

The award honors an outstanding counseling program that is unique and innovative. NCACES said YSU’s Counseling Program in the Beeghly College of Education demonstrates increased excellence through its advocacy initiatives, co-curricular experiences for graduate students, connections to the community through high-quality field experiences, delivery of free and reduced counseling services to the community through the Community Counseling Clinic, and scholarship by faculty and graduate students.

The YSU Counseling Program, accredited through the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs, has graduated more than 1,500 graduate trained counselors over the past 45 years who have served the area as licensed professional clinical counselors, licensed/certified school counselors, licensed/certified chemical dependency counselors, student affairs professionals, professors, agency directors, and other public servants.

For more information about the YSU program or to pursue a career as a clinical mental health counselor, school counselor, addiction counselor, or student affairs/college counselor, contact Jake Protivnak, associate professor and department chair, at


  • Nicole Adamson, assistant professor, University of Pembroke: “As I reflect upon my experience in the YSU Counseling Program, I am certain that I received the best education available. The faculty members are very accessible, and I spent a lot of individual time exploring my career options with my advisor, Dr. Protivnak. As a result, I am now a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed School Counselor, which has made it very easy to find fulfilling employment. The individual support provided to students both in and out of the classroom allows us to reach our full potential. Beyond excellent educational opportunities, I was able to make scholarly achievements that are simply uncommon at the master’s level. As a graduate assistant for Dr. Kress, I served the counseling profession at the state and national levels, presented at several conferences, and published four peer-reviewed articles. I was fully prepared when I entered a doctoral program ranked third in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.Overall, my experience in the YSU Counseling Program will always be one of my fondest memories and something for which I am ever thankful. The support within the program allowed me to successfully achieve my goals and aspirations. Graduates of the YSU Counseling Program are highly-desired by employers because we enter the community ready to repay the many gifts we were given as students at YSU.”
  • Becky Varian, director, YSU Center for Student Progress: “I made a scary decision in 2006 to quit my teaching position and return to school for a graduate degree at Youngstown State University. It was one of the best decisions of my life. The Student Affairs Program provided an extremely supportive environment and, as a non-traditional student, that support made all the difference for me. Many things had changed in research since I obtained my undergraduate degree, but my instructors were always available to answer questions and guide me with proper methods for academic writing and citation. It was because of this support and encouragement that I thrived in the program as well as in my current career. Since I graduated from the YSU Counseling Program in 2008, I have advanced rapidly in my career and now serve as the director of the YSU Center for Student Progress. We hire six graduate students each year to assist with academic support at the CSP, and I was grateful when many graduate students from the Counseling Program applied. The counseling courses the graduate students are required to take are very beneficial to the work we do with undergraduate students in need of support. The counseling skills coupled with the writing skills made me very confident in hiring graduate assistants that will be able to quickly adapt and excel.​”
  • Francine Packard, administrative clinical advisor, Trumbull County Children Service Agency: “As a community member and field placement supervisor for the past 10 years, I have experienced first-hand the dedication and support the professors and staff in YSU’s counseling program provide to students. Specifically, they take a special interest in empowering students who may not have the natural resources to excel within the graduate program. These students sometimes lack social supports from family and peers. Therefore, staff members work to serve as a surrogate support system. For example, professors provide resources such as emotional support (e.g. encouragement) and tangible support (e.g. time, information, and linkage) in order to help students succeed within the program. In addition, students/clients within the general population benefit from the department’s on-site community counseling center. This center provides needed mental health and drug/alcohol counseling services, free of charge, for those who otherwise would not be able to access this type of support. This service is beneficial to all ages, but especially for emerging adults transitioning into adulthood. This population traditionally struggles with the pressure of college and the newly experienced responsibilities of being a young adult. Therefore, these services are critical in providing a professional level of support to help individuals manage stress/adversity in order to succeed toward personal goals.”
  • Elizabeth Crawford, school counselor, Westerville City Schools: “In the fall of 2010, I began coursework for my master’s degree at Youngstown State University in the school counseling program. When I started at YSU, I was also employed as a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at West Branch Local Schools. I was fulfilled in my profession as a teacher, but I set a goal to become a counselor in order to help students achieve in all areas of their lives. Although I was slightly hesitant to start my master’s, I immediately felt that YSU had the ideal program to cultivate my craft. The small class sizes enabled professors to be accessible to answer questions and listen to concerns, in addition to getting to know me as a person. I was also able to network with other students from a variety of undergraduate backgrounds, such as psychology, criminal justice, and communications. The most beneficial experience from my undergraduate program was completing the Methods and Practicum courses, where I executed strategies and techniques with actual clients. I am so appreciative to my advisors and professors at YSU. With their assistance, I was able to become a school counselor at West Branch while completing my internship year. I was guided by my professors and advisors who gave me the supervision and support as I transitioned into this new role. Although my internship year was challenging, I successfully worked with students and families of varying socioeconomic statuses, races and religions. When I graduated in the summer of 2013, I walked across the stage at the ceremony feeling proud of the work I accomplished and grateful for those at YSU who helped me to accomplish my goal. This upcoming school year will be my third year as a school counselor, and I look forward to continuing my career path of helping others.” ​
  • Shawn Burton, doctoral candidate in Counselor Education & Supervision, Kent State University: “This program has been supportive from the first day I had an interest in coming back to graduate school as a 37-year-old student. I contacted Dr. Jake Protivnak prior to applying to the program. I wasn’t quite sure if the program was right for me. He took a good 20-30 minutes out of his day to chat with me about the program, what it entailed, its goals, and so on. I was so impressed with his genuine care and concern for my future in graduate school that I put all my energy in trying to get into the program. I was accepted and have benefitted tremendously from the supportive faculty and staff from every standpoint in my development.  My life has come full circle now just having completed teaching my first graduate class at YSU in the Counseling Program. This opportunity has given me a different perspective and a deeper appreciation for the program. I’ve had the chance to interact with the students on a much different level. It continues to impress me with the caliber and diversity of students within the program. YSU consistently chooses a wide-range of students, no matter what age, cultural/ethnic make-up, and/or educational background. This was evident in the class that I taught. By choosing such a diverse student-base in their program, they set their program apart and they give their students such a greater understanding of perspective; one of understanding and acceptance of diverse populations. This, by far, has given me an advantage as I pursue my educational and professional goals and will continue to do so for it’s future students.​”