Two women sit across from each other during a counseling session

Grant gives counseling students meaningful field experiences

This fall, College of Education and Human Development faculty members Dennis Gilbride, Franco Dispenza and Cirleen DeBlaere received a $149,217 continuation award – the second of a five-year $750,000 grant – from the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration for a grant project designed to train students to work with people with mental illnesses.

Over the course of the grant, Gilbride, Dispenza and DeBlaere will prepare 15-18 rehabilitation counselors with a specialization in rehabilitation of people with psychiatric disorders.

Students complete internships with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and other state agencies that help people with mental illness and other disabilities meet their employment and life goals. Students received scholarships to cover their tuition and other expenses and in return, they are required to work at a state agency or contractor following graduation.

David Hodges, a student benefitting from this grant, is completing his internship with the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency at its Cumming, Ga., location. He has found working with people with disabilities and helping them find jobs a meaningful experience.

“Most of the clients I serve are young and transitioning from high school into the work force,” he explained. “Many of the clients have degrees of mental disabilities and are wonderful to serve.”

Gilbride, Dispenza and DeBlaere hope the combination of coursework and hands-on internships give Hodges and other students involved in the grant a more acute understanding of how best to assist people with mental illnesses and other disabilities.

“Our long-term goal is to increase the number of rehabilitation counselors who are able to competently serve the diverse population of individuals with mental illness-related disabilities, accounting for the multiple cultural and social factors that impact their lives,” DeBlaere said.

For more information about the college’s rehabilitation counseling program, visit