Assistantships and Extracurricular Involvement

As a counselor-in-training, your courses will invite significant personal growth and professional development. However, there are many other avenues for students to obtain additional learning experiences.

Most counseling programs—especially state-funded universities—offer research and graduate assistantships in which students receive tuition fee remission, a monetary stipend, and are required to work for a specified number of hours per week (usually between 10 and 20) for their designated supervisor. Assistantship opportunities may involve work within or outside of the department (see Box 8.4). For example, some graduate assistant- ship positions may involve working with professors in other departments/ programs, working in student affairs areas on campus, or even working in the financial aid office, or with the campus’ child care facility. The remission of tuition is a very appealing benefit to many students, but assistant- ship responsibilities can be intensive, and in conjunction with academic requirements, may prove overwhelming to some. If you are considering applying for an assistantship, schedule a meeting with your counseling

Box 8.4


I have three primary expectations of graduate assistants. The first expectation I have is to treat the assistantship as an opportunity rather than another item on the “to do list" I expect graduate assistants to independently consider how they can get the most out of their assistantship. I especially appreciate when graduate assistants come to me with ideas as opposed to waiting to receive the “orders for the day.” The second expectation I have for graduate assistants is to finish assigned tasks in a timely manner. The diligence of graduate assistants is not only appreciated but, in many cases, necessary when working under deadlines. Finally, I expect graduate assistants to present themselves as representatives of the program, department, college, university, and counseling profession. Graduate assistants are working with the faculty and administration of the university on a regular basis and, many times, are provided opportunities to meet leaders within the counseling profession. Therefore, it is imperative that graduate assistants carry themselves in a professional manner.

Cassandra G. Pusateri, Ph.D., NCC, Assistant Professor, East Tennessee State University

program director to become better informed of your program’s opportunities. Evaluate your coursework, the requirements of the specific position, and competing life demands to ensure a well-balanced experience throughout your graduate studies. As discussed in chapter 7, assistantship opportunities may be limited in each counseling program, so stay aware of other campus and professional opportunities for involvement and employment.

Despite the additional time commitment and workload, assistantship positions can provide graduate students with a number of valuable experiences. Students can enhance their knowledge and obtain a diverse set of competencies by engaging in tasks that differ from traditional coursework assignments. Furthermore, mentorship inherently comes with assistantship work and is a beneficial component to professional development. Not only can faculty mentors provide students with close guidance throughout their graduate programs and careers, but they frequently offer students opportunities to engage in research studies, publish scholarly work, or present at conferences as well (see Box 8.5). Due to this potential for vast professional development, assistantship positions are particularly advantageous for students who may be interested in future doctoral study.

Box 8.5


After settling into the counseling graduate student experience and subsequently finding my groove, I began applying to present at conferences. In order to give a presentation at a national conference, one has to be prepared to answer tough questions, handle conflicting viewpoints regarding your chosen topic, and deal with the pressure that comes with presenting to professionals as a student. As such, it is helpful to do your initial presentations with faculty members who can provide mentoring and help you understand the experience of making professional presentations. As you become more independent, it may be helpful to submit to present poster presentations, which involve presenting a 30-minute session on your poster topic. Once you have experience presenting with faculty members and presenting posters, regular presentations on your own will not feel as intimidating. The experience of presenting at conferences provided me with an opportunity to learn how to answer questions, how to design presentations, and how to thoughtfully converse with professionals in the field. I built many connections at conference because of my presentations, and in general, my confidence and sense of self as a future professional in the counseling field have grown because of these experiences.

Meredith A. Rausch, Doctoral Student, The University of Iowa

Box 8.6


I became actively involved in Chi Sigma Iota during my first semester as a master's student. The extracurricular events organized by my local chapter provided a much-needed sense of community, and I found that leadership was a natural fit for me. Since my early days in CSI, I have served as the president of my master's and doctoral chapters, as well as an international leadership fellow. I have served CSI at the international level since becoming a fellow, and I am now a Chapter Faculty Advisor. For me, involvement in CSI has fostered irreplaceable personal and professional development. CSI connects students with each other, their professors, and the community. CSI contributes to the holistic and comprehensive nature of our training programs, and I suggest to all students that they get involved in CSI.

Nicole A. Stargell, Ph.D., LPCA, LSC, NCC, University of North Carolina-Pembroke

Extracurricular involvement is another way for students to facilitate their professional development. You will read about professional development opportunities in chapter 10. For now, it is important to consider the ways you can get involved as a student. There are a wide variety of professional associations and organizations that encourage student involvement at local, state, regional, national, and international levels. Chi Sigma Iota (CSI), the Counseling Academic and Professional Honor Society International, is one of the most accessible organizations for students, as graduate counseling programs frequently house a CSI chapter. There are a number of elected positions, and there are also opportunities to volunteer on various committees and capacities in CSI chapters. As noted in Box 8.6, CSI involvement is a great way to get to know your professors better, and it can facilitate the development of meaningful, life-long friendships.

State and national counseling associations also have various chapters, divisions, committees, task forces, and volunteer opportunities that are available to students. Some of these organizations have emerging leaders, interns, or fellow positions (e.g., CSI, CACREP) that can help usher students into professional service. Many graduate students shy away from service positions because they are perceived as intimidating or they believe such roles are solely reserved for esteemed professionals. Many counseling association leaders are eager to get students involved in professional service. Professors and counseling professionals have a vested interest in promoting the leadership, scholarship, and excellence of students, and they are also hungry for eager people who can help them with their service initiatives (see Box 8.7).

Box 8.7


While it may be difficult to envision, students are in fact leaders. All students have experience advocating for themselves; they are trained to advocate for clients and, through their professional engagements, they learn to advocate for the counseling profession. As such, it is important to develop your professional identity and get involved in leadership positions. One way to strengthen your skills as a leader is to participate in counseling organizations such as Chi Sigma Iota (CSI) and the American Counseling Association (ACA) and its branches and divisions. It is through these experiences that you learn about the characteristics that are necessary to lead yourself and others. Your involvement can begin with being part of your university's local CSI chapter as a member, committee chair, or even by serving on its executive board. These local experiences can lead to wonderful opportunities on a larger scale. I have been very impressed by the initiative of my student colleagues to get involved and provide much-needed leadership in our profession. It is truly an exciting time to get involved, and there is a place you can get involved that fits with your interests and needs. Seek out opportunities that both capitalize on your strengths and allow you to grow as a leader and professional counselor—you won't regret it!

Sandra Logan, Student, University of Florida

How else are we to advance the counseling profession if we are not seeking to cultivate student leaders and pulling on enthusiastic volunteers?

It is important to recognize that professional development activities are significantly interrelated to personal growth, professional identity, leadership, and self-efficacy. As professional development opportunities begin to arise throughout your graduate counseling program experience, be sure to capitalize on them. These experiences provide advantages related to networking, mentorship, and enhanced preparation to serve as a professional counselor.

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