McConkey Earns National Counselor of the Year Recognition
Kelly McConkey of the NC State Counseling Center has been named the American College Counseling Association’s Counselor of the Year.
Around the NC State Counseling Center, Kelly McConkey is known as the “outreach queen” — and for good reason. As a member of the center’s clinical staff, she has organized specific support spaces for LGBTQ-identifying students, and uses artwork to get students in the door and reduce the stigma associated with mental health therapy.
For all these reasons and more, McConkey has been named the American College Counseling Association’s 2023 Counselor of the Year.
“Kelly is an out of the box thinker — she lives to break down mental health stigma and works to reach those we may not,” said Monica Osburn, executive director of the Counseling Center and McConkey’s nominator for the award. “Kelly’s clients love her, and her feedback is always top notch. She gets many students asking for her by name, and she is a known entity in many student communities. Staff seek her out for consultation, especially with the transgender community. She is tirelessly committed to students.”
McConkey started attending drop-ins at NC State’s LGBTQ Pride Center (formerly the GLBT Center) when she first started working at the university seven years ago, and she hasn’t stopped. McConkey was also one of the Counseling Center’s first clinicians to embrace “Let’s Talk” programming. Let’s Talk is a program that connects NC State students with support from experienced counselors from the Counseling Center without an appointment. Counselors hold drop-in hours at several sites on campus.
“Kelly is a champion for our LGBTQIA students and, specifically, our transgender-identified students,” Osburn said. “She runs trans-specific groups, drop in spaces, organizes pride walks and does trainings for our staff on trans-inclusive practices. When we had a member of the trans community die this year by suicide, Kelly was the first person the community asked to come help — and of course she did. She held a postvention space and didn’t leave until every student got their needs met. This is the type of clinician Kelly McConkey is.”
McConkey is also beloved by her colleagues in the Counseling Center and serves as chair of its retreat and community engagement committee. In that role, she plans, organizes and hosts events to ensure staff feel connected, cared for and happy.
“She often spends her own money or creates her own ‘prizes’ to have an atmosphere that shows staff they are valued,” Osburn said. “She is the first one to congratulate another, show concern for someone and advocate for all. To know her is to love her.”
McConkey holds an undergraduate degree from NC State and received her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling with post-master’s certification in expressive art therapy from Appalachian State University. One of the ways McConkey has incorporated art into her career was by organizing an art show at the Counseling Center. She contacted local artists and students interested in expressive art and encouraged them to submit their work to hang in the Counseling Center.
“This was a win-win as our artwork on the walls was old and dated, and this event gave us the opportunity to ‘pick up the vibe’ when we had no money to invest in that,” Osburn said. “She coordinated a showing one evening, inviting all students in to not only see the artwork, but also see the center — again, breaking down the stigma and demystifying the ‘scariness’ of the center.”
In her daily work, McConkey is a licensed mental health counselor with an integrative theoretical orientation. Her approach to counseling includes a humanistic perspective, cognitive behavioral techniques, expressive arts therapy and mindfulness-based practices. She offers counseling for such issues as general stress, academic/time management, anxiety, depression, sexual assault, grief and loss, relationship/interpersonal concerns, sexual identity exploration, life changes/adjustment and psychosis.
Learn more about McConkey and the services provided at NC State’s Counseling Center on its website: counseling.dasa.ncsu.edu.