News & Stories
Monica Phelps-Pineda
March 3, 2023

Psychology grad pursues diversity, equity and accessibility in counseling education

Once she obtains her doctorate in education with an emphasis in counseling and supervision from the University of Missouri–St. Louis, Monica Phelps-Pineda ’13 is ready for her next career move. She plans to pursue a position as a faculty member in a counseling program accredited by CACREP (Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Education Programs). Her goal is to promote diversity, equity and accessibility in the multi-faceted roles she would assume as an educator through teaching, research, counseling and supervision.

This career direction emerged after Phelps-Pineda transferred to Berry from another institution and took on pivotal campus and community roles. She worked as a counselor assistant intern with Armuchee Elementary School and as an ESL teacher with Berry’s English as a Second Language program. These opportunities solidified her desire to work one-on-one with people.

A course focused on the psychology of women, taught by Associate Professor of Psychology Susan Conradsen, ignited her passion. “As a result of what I was learning in class, I felt a strong urgency to serve — particularly in an agency or service program in the community dedicated to eliminating violence against women. Dr. Conradsen’s guidance led me to volunteer at the Northwest Georgia Sexual Assault Center to serve as an advocate for survivors of sexual assault, which later grew into a paid position as a ‘prevention educator and translator,’” Phelps-Pineda says.

This work illuminated the realities that people at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities are at higher risk for sexual violence. “There was a shortage of service providers and limited access to care for individuals who do not speak English as their primary language,” she notes.

Phelps-Pineda continued to accumulate teaching and service experiences that later informed her doctoral research. For example, she participated in a teaching abroad program led by Interim Provost David Slade in Costa Rica. “I spent that summer semester living with a local host family and teaching English in a nearby elementary school. This was my first-time teaching outside of the United States,” remembers Phelps-Pineda. “This was a very humbling experience for me, as this school had such a limited access to resources. I had to get creative with class instruction and enrichment activities — there was a total shift in my pedagogical approach.”

Since then, she has taught English in Mexico, Spain, China and the U.S., serving students in elementary to master’s level classrooms. “My understanding of diversity and multicultural complexity has grown tremendously through these immersive cross-cultural experiences. Each one has worked to further solidify my calling in education and my passion for working with marginalized populations toward accessibility and equity,” Phelps-Pineda says.

Building on her Berry foundation, she earned a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling from the University of North Georgia and went on to receive the National Board of Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship in 2022. “I have used the $20,000 award for direct educational expenses,” Phelps-Pineda says. “However, the accessibility that this fellowship offers extends beyond just the financial – such as invaluable networking relationships, leadership training opportunities and professional development resources.”

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