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Monica Osburn Named American College Counseling Association Director of the Year

For more than 20 years, Dr. Monica Osburn has dedicated her life to helping others help themselves. As director of NC State’s Counseling Center, she leads the campus’s team of devoted individuals supporting the mental health needs of NC State students. Osburn’s leadership has made a lasting impact on our campus, and it’s not only the Wolfpack community that has taken notice. She has recently been named 2016 Director of the Year by the American College Counseling Association (ACCA).

The ACCA, a division of the American Counseling Association, is an organization for higher ed counseling professionals whose purpose is to foster students’ development. The mission of the ACCA is to be the interdisciplinary and inclusive professional home that supports emerging and state of the art knowledge and resources for counseling professionals in higher education. The Director of the Year award honors a college counseling director who has made a significant impact on the national, state, or local level.

During her tenure as director, Osburn has been an integral part of developing the Counseling Center into a go-to resource for students in need of support. Says Academic and Student Affairs vice provost Dr. Lisa Zapata, “Under [Osburn’s] leadership, the Counseling Center has experienced a significant expansion, both in the number of clinicians and variety of services available to our students. The work that goes on in the Counseling Center is some of the most critically important work we do on campus. Students need to be well in order to be successful in the classroom.” The Counseling Center has become one of NC State’s most crucial resources; during 2015-16, more than 4,500 students sought support. With the ever-present pressure to be competitive in the classroom, and the challenges associated with balancing academic and personal responsibilities, the stress that college students face each day is great, and more and more students are bringing significant concerns such as suicide, self-harm, and persistent mental illness to the Counseling Center.

“The work that goes on in the Counseling Center is some of the most critically important work we do on campus.”

Dr. Lisa Zapata

Each year the number of students seeking out and receiving mental health services on campus increases, and the Counseling Center has risen to meet the growing need. “Demand for services has increased every year I have been at NC State, meaning more students are coming through our doors asking for help, despite the fact that our enrollment is not growing at the same rate,” explained Osburn.

Under Osburn’s leadership, Counseling Center staff has worked tirelessly to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health services, while also increasing outreach and awareness efforts. Making students aware of the resources available to them as early as possible is critically important as delaying reaching out for support can significantly inhibit students’ ability to be successful in the long term. As Osburn points out, “If a student’s depression keeps them from going to class for a week or two, that may impact their entire semester resulting in failing grades, difficulty being able to navigate discussing the issues with their family, and impact to personal relationships. If we can intervene early, the consequences can be minimal and the coping skills taught are with them for a lifetime.”

Zapata also acknowledges the increasing demand for Counseling Center services, and the need for the development of programs and services to support the student population and reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health support. “When Monica arrived in 2012, she developed a plan for growth to address the fact that we simply did not have enough clinicians on staff to meet the needs of the student body. Since that time, we have grown from 18 clinicians to 30, including three embedded clinicians who are physically located outside of the Center, but are connected to our department.” Osburn’s leadership has also been instrumental in the development of a newly established training program. After multiple years of adding trainees and developing the program, the Counseling Center now includes a Doctoral Psychology Internship program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association.

Zapata continues, “Other strategies that Monica and her team have implemented that have enhanced our ability to support the wellbeing of our students include establishing a satellite office on Centennial Campus; creating drop-in hours at the GLBT Center, Multicultural Student Affairs, and Office of International Services; expanding our group counseling program; and developing an Emmy award winning “Stop the Stigma” campaign. Our campus community is extremely fortunate to have Monica leading our efforts to promote the emotional well being of our students, and this national recognition is so very well-deserved and appreciated.”

Osburn is quick to acknowledge, however, that the Counseling Center’s success—and her nomination for the award—has not been a singular effort. She feels strongly that her recognition as Director of the Year is the result of the hard work and dedication of her entire team. “For me, it is not about the personal recognition of my accomplishments because I couldn’t be here without a talented and dedicated staff as well as an administration that supports our mission. The most rewarding aspect of my job is being able to give mental health professionals that work in the Counseling Center the space to do their job and watching how students benefit from it.”

Osburn’s desire to help students be their healthiest, most successful selves is clear, and she’s made important strides during her time at NC State. For her, it’s not simply about helping people during a moment of need; it’s about equipping them with the skills they need to support themselves in the future. She considers herself privileged to lead a team of individuals who are each willing to go the extra mile for NC State students. For Osburn and her staff, “The ultimate success is watching [students] walk across the stage….or hold their diploma in their hands, and really understand and like the person they are.”

Osburn’s achievement was recognized during this month’s 10th Annual ACCA Conference in Tampa, FL.