Steeped in Support

Steeped in Support

By Michelle Mullowney '17

Dedicated to a wide range of students, the Counseling and Student Development Center on the Minneapolis campus combines mental health services, administrative support and friendly staff under one roof. Here, director Michael Peterson explains its purpose and shares his own history with St. Kate’s.

Q: When was this center established and what is your role?

I’ve been at the University going on 23 years now, and this center was in existence when I came. I think it was more formally developed in the early 1980s, and I attribute that in some ways to the forward-thinking nature of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet, who recognized the needs of our students and then try to meet those needs. The Counseling Center is an extension of that.

I was hired as the lead counselor for personal counseling, which is sort of ironic because I was the only counselor. Then after working at St. Kate’s for around 10 years, I was promoted to director, overseeing personal counseling, student development and also the Access and Success program for student parents on both campuses.

I’m still the only psychologist on the Minneapolis campus, but I have an administrative assistant and I work closely with the four social workers in our— two in Minneapolis and two in St. Paul. We also have a student employee who conducts research-based projects for the center.

Q: How does your team serve students?

In personal counseling, we offer individual therapy sessions, assess­ment, consultation and referrals. In student development, we organize educational programs and even print University ID cards for new students. In Access and Success, we support student parents with a variety of resources including emer­gency grants, laptop loans and child-friendly study spaces.

We like to be engaged in the community, so we’re not viewed as something apart from it or scary, or behind closed doors. I tell students they can come and see us for any reason or no reason at all. Just being a college student and managing life is stressful enough!

Q: Tell me more about your programs.

A lot of our educational programs come from com­munity requests. The two big ones I organize are “Adjustment to College Life” and “Stress and the College Student.” Both of those look at topics like time management, sleep habits, anxiety and depression.

We’ve also offered free and anonymous online screenings for mental health issues. This program gives students the opportunity to explore, specifically within themselves, if their concerns are at a level that needs professional help.

Q: Who’s the typical Minneapolis student, and does that affect what she or he might need?

Our students are unique in some ways, but there’s a common element: being a college student is challenging. The average age runs between 27 and 29 years old, but we’ve seen people as young as 17 and as old as 78. A fair number are student parents, a lot of them work full time or near full time, and all commute.

Statistically, colleges that serve traditional-age, bachelor’s-degree-seeking students who live on campus see a higher percentage of traffic at their counseling centers. However, some research suggests that associate-level students may have a higher need, but they access services at a lower rate. Between parenting, commuting, work and school, it’s difficult for many of them to find a free hour to get help.

Q: There’s a counseling center on St. Kate’s campus in St. Paul. Do you work with the staff there?

Yes. We collaborate extensively. We have a good working relationship with the St. Paul counseling center. We share a lot of the same resources and sometimes we draw on each other’s expertise as well if we need to.

Q: Any services you hope to add in the future?

Currently, St. Kate’s can only offer a limited number of psychiatric hours because access to psychiatrists and, by extension, access to medications they prescribe, is limited. This is a nationwide problem. It takes three months on average to meet with a psychiatrist, and that’s a long time to ask people to wait if they’re having mental health concerns. At some point, we’d like to expand our resources in this area because student needs are increasing.

Q: Do students need to make an appointment?

Yes, if it’s possible. One reason for this is: our psychiatrist comes in every other week for a few hours and visits both campuses. But we know emotional crises don’t comply to a set schedule. So, in the event of a crisis, I — or one of our social workers — will see a student immediately.

Q: Tell me about you — where are you from and how did you end up at St. Kate’s?

I was born and raised in Minnesota and went to St. John’s University, then I moved east for Harvard University. While in Boston, a mentor of mine called and said, “St. Kate’s is looking for a counselor.” I thought that might be interesting. The Czech part of my family came to Minnesota as farmers around the 1900s, and they couldn’t afford col­lege. But St. Kate’s reached out to my mother’s great aunt — and that influenced the other generations in my family.

That’s why I’m a believer in education. I particularly enjoy working with immigrant and refugee students because I know that their kids and their children’s kids will be inspired, like I was growing up. I want to pass that on.

Q: And now you’ve been here more than two decades! What’s kept you at St. Kate’s?

I initially thought I’d stay maybe two years — but, yes, it’s been 23. Personal counseling centers at this University, and most universities, aid in the retention of students and try to contribute to their ultimate goal of getting a quality education. And it’s through learning that a lot of good things happen. I’ve stayed this long is because I can see the impact — it’s always rewarding to hear from graduates that their whole life has changed as a result of coming to St. Kate’s.

Sometimes people ask how I can do the work I do because a lot of what I hear are difficult experiences people are going through. But to see students move through the hard parts and get beyond them is really gratifying. Because of my role as a psychologist, I’m not able to reach out to former clients. But I do get calls regularly from people I’ve seen years, and years ago, to thank me.

Michelle Mullowney graduated in May with a B.A. in French.



Bailey Auseth ’18 also works for St. Kate’s Public Safety and is a member of the Wildcats volleyball team.


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