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Graduate Students Share Ethics Research at National Conference

Students and faculty smiling in front of a power presentation

For clinical mental health counselors, the relationship between one’s personal and professional ethics is critical, Georgian Court graduate student researchers Alicia Quayson and Chelsea Sikora told audiences at this year’s American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA) conference.

Alicia and Chelsea, both enrolled in the university’s CACREP-accredited clinical mental health counseling program, discussed “Building Blocks of Ethical Thinking: Research into Practice.” Their research included the work of classmate Nicole Mossbacher and explored results from a study on counselors’ ethical thinking.

“Presenting was exhilarating and fulfilling all at once!” says Chelsea, who also earned a GCU degree in psychology in 2015. “It really inspired me to continue pursuing my passion—helping not only my future clients to better their lives, but to improve the field of counseling through research.”

Clinical Mental Health Professors Encourage Professional Meetings, Industry Involvement

Girl smiling behind the podium
Clinical mental health counseling graduate student Chelsea Sikora recently represented Georgian Court at a national conference, sharing her research on counselors’ personal and professional ethics.

Such professional exposure is very important, says Richard Ponton, Ph.D., director of GCU’s clinical mental health counseling curriculum, which is approved by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).

“One hallmark of a profession is that it generates a body of research and disseminates that knowledge to other professionals through publications and presentations,” says Dr. Ponton.

He also attended the conference with GCU faculty member Alfred Mancuso, Psy.D., department chair for psychology and counseling.

“In the past four years, students in our clinical mental health counseling program have presented at conferences for the American Psychological Association, the American Mental Health Counselors Association, the American Counseling Association, and the New England Psychological Association, and they have co-authored research papers for psychology and counseling journals.”

High Expectations

GCU clinical mental health counseling students are expected to conduct research and participate in professional activities. In addition to completing graduate courses, many work at jobs and internships.

Chelsea, for example, coordinates GCU’s Women in Leadership Development (WILD) program and interns at the New Hope Foundation, which treats adults and teens affected with alcohol, drug, and gambling addictions.

She’s also an editorial assistant for the Journal of Mental Health Counseling.

“We prepare students for practice and leadership in the counseling profession,” says Dr. Ponton. “While some of our students will choose doctoral studies, most will engage in professional practice.

“Research, attending national conferences, and publishing are elements that enhance student engagement in the profession and promote quality care for those served by counselors.”

Networking with Professional Clinical Mental Health Counselors—for Now and Later

For Chelsea and Alicia, meeting with leading counselors at the conference was invaluable.

“It allowed us to share our research on counselor values and decision making, based on data collected from the 2015 AMHCA conference, with those who can help our research have an impact,” says Alicia, who was awarded a travel scholarship by the association.

Chelsea says the experience confirmed she’s on the right path—personally and professionally.

“I gained a lot of confidence…and see myself not only as a student, but as a future colleague to some of the best minds in the field,” she says.

“Not only did I network with other counselors who are passionate about the field, but I also had to opportunity to meet Catherine Roland, Ed.D., who is president of the American Counseling Association.

“These opportunities are priceless,” says Chelsea, “and are simply not experiences you will have if you limit learning to the classroom.”

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.