SDSU's Rehabilitation Counseling program teaches students to make a difference in the lives of disabled people.
The rehab counseling program at commencement.
One of SDSU’s best kept secrets lies within the Department of Administration, Rehabilitation and Postsecondary Education. This year, U.S. News and World Report ranked the rehabilitation counseling program ninth in the nation because of its passion and commitment to teaching students how to make a difference in the lives of disabled people.
Caren Sax, chair of the department, and Charles Degeneffe, coordinator of the rehabilitation counseling master’s program, are part of the team that leads the famously successful 60-unit master’s program. Each year approximately 25 to 30 students enroll in the program, which emphasizes vocational rehabilitation.
“So many of us find our identity through our work,” Sax said. “There are a lot of people with disabilities that want to work, and we help them see the opportunities to be empowered and advocate for themselves.”
The SDSU rehabilitation counseling program approaches this task from a unique angle. It focuses on the steps toward independent living for individuals, while also working with friends and family members on the transition. Often students will find themselves working with special education high school students and veterans with disabilities.
The study of rehabilitation counseling consistently changes as new technology and research advancements are made. SDSU’s program not only keeps up with the trends, but stays ahead of them. Recently, a demand for new assistive technology led to a collaboration with the College of Engineering on rehabilitation electronics.
“We never rest on what we are doing,” said Degeneffe, who joined the department in 2005. “We are always looking for new directions to take the program.”
Collaboration reaches beyond the confines of SDSU, as the program was one of the first in the country to be offered completely online. Students in American Samoa, Ireland and China have earned rehabilitation counseling degrees from SDSU while studying and living in their native countries.
The rehabilitation counseling program is known for giving students ongoing support, keeping them employed and having a loyal and supportive alumni base.
“We have some incredibly talented people in our Interwork Institute with very strong values and commitment to making this work,” Degeneffe said.
Numerous certificate programs and specializations taught by experts in the field provide the resources for students to find their niche. Students are encouraged to participate in conferences, research opportunities, international experiences and hands-on job training alongside their professors.
The impact the program has on the community continues to grow with every graduating class. Some graduates have choosen to use their degrees to give back to the students at SDSU.
Pamela Starr, a graduate of the program, is now the director of SDSU Student Disability Services while another alumna, Lynn Gagne, works as a counselor in the same department.
“You see the changes you make in your students and then you see what they do in the field,” Degeneffe said. “We see how they progress in their careers and the changes that they are making in people’s lives; it’s truly amazing.”