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Federal grant helps WMU train rehabilitation counselors

Nov. 23, 2010

KALAMAZOO--Students pursuing a rehabilitation counseling degree at Western Michigan University may be eligible to receive money from the federal government to complete their studies.

The money is available through a five-year $748,843 grant that has been awarded to WMU by the Rehabilitation Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Education. Nearly 89 percent of the Rehabilitation Long-term Training--Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling grant will offset tuition and provide a small stipend for students in good standing who demonstrate financial need.

Under the grant, full-time students could receive up to $14,000 per academic year to support their studies. Those who receive grant funding are required to "pay back" their funding by seeking and maintaining employment in the collaborative state-federal vocational rehabilitation services system at a rate of one year for each semester funding is received.

The goal of the Rehabilitation Long-term Training--Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling grant is to graduate 30 professionals to address personnel shortages in the rehabilitation counseling field nationwide. Rehabilitation counselors help people who have physical, mental, developmental, cognitive and emotional disabilities achieve their personal, career and independent-living goals.

"Both Michigan Rehabilitation Services and the Michigan Commission for the Blind are experiencing or anticipating personnel shortages," says Dr. Jennipher Wiebold, WMU associate professor of blindness and low vision studies and principal investigator for the new grant.

"In the next five years, 45 percent of the rehabilitation counselors at Michigan Rehabilitation Services and 21 percent of rehabilitation counselors at the Michigan Commission for the Blind will retire or become eligible for retirement."

The new grant to reduce those shortages was awarded to WMU's Department of Counselor Education and Counseling Psychology and Department of Blindness and Low Vision Studies.

Counselor education and counseling psychology offers a 53-credit-hour master's degree in rehabilitation counseling and, in conjunction with blindness and low vision studies, a 76-credit-hour dual master's degree. The dual-degree program provides the nation's most extensive and comprehensive training for rehabilitation counselors wanting to specialize in blindness and low vision. Graduates of both programs are eligible for national certification as rehabilitation counselors (CRC) and as licensed professional counselors (LLPC/LPC) in Michigan.

Wiebold says that students in WMU's two programs obtain counseling training and instruction in preparing people with disabilities to be qualified for the jobs they are seeking. Students also learn about consulting with employers and people with disabilities to modify work settings so that those with disabilities who are qualified for specific jobs can get and keep those jobs.

In terms of jobs in the field's public sector, Wiebold notes that Michigan Rehabilitation Services and the Michigan Commission for the Blind are part of the state-federal vocational rehabilitation services system. That system includes some 50 general and combined agencies across the country as well as 24 separate agencies for the blind that serve residents of the United States, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas Islands and the Virgin Islands.

A Certified Rehabilitation Counselor, Wiebold coordinates both the general rehabilitation counseling program and the dual master's program at WMU and is president-elect of the National Rehabilitation Counseling Association. Working with her on the long-term training grant are co-project directors Dr. James Leja, professor and chair of blindness and low vision studies, and Dr. Patrick Munley, professor and chair of counselor education and counseling psychology.

Wiebold and Munley already are co-directing a related state grant with their WMU colleague Dr. Stephen Craig, associate professor of counselor education and counseling psychology and director of counselor education programs. The trio are in their second year of a three-year $546,000 grant from Michigan Rehabilitation Services to create a Rehabilitation Internship-Employment Recruitment Model Program.

That grant is funding internship experiences with Michigan Rehabilitation Services for students in rehabilitation counseling programs at WMU, Michigan State University, Wayne State University and Northern Illinois University. Students who complete the internships will be recruited to fill entry-level rehabilitation counselor positions at Michigan Rehabilitation Services.

For more information about WMU's Rehabilitation Long-term Training--Vocational Rehabilitation Counseling grant, state internship program grant or rehabilitation counseling programs, contact Jennipher Wiebold at jennipher.wiebold@wmich.edu or (269) 387-3459.

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Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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