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Two Montana State counseling students receive prestigious fellowship

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News from Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — Two Montana State University students who plan to use their education to provide mental health counseling services to underserved populations have been awarded a coveted fellowship to help them meet their goals.

Jenaya Burns and Ileana “Illy” Dinette, both graduate students in the counseling program in MSU’s Department of Health and Human Development in the College of Education, Health and Human Development, received the National Board for Certified Counselors Minority Fellowship for Addiction Counselors. The award comes with $15,000 and includes opportunities for professional development, mentorship support and networking.

“I am so grateful and excited to see where this will take me,” Burns said. “I am excited to see the professional growth that will come (with this fellowship). It means that I can be the best counselor I can be and do what I am passionate about.”

Dinette said she was excited and emotional to learn that she had received the honor.

“It was really validating to know my heart and passion for this work was being acknowledged by this really huge foundation,” she added.

Dinette and Burns both began MSU’s counseling program last summer and are on track to graduate next spring. Their paths to the program have been different, but both aspire to provide counseling services to populations that have been historically underserved.

Burns, who was born and raised on the Flathead Indian Reservation in northwest Montana and graduated from Ronan High School, said she is the first in her family to attend college.

After high school, Burns came to MSU and pursued undergraduate degrees in music – she’s a clarinetist – and psychology. She also did research with psychology professor Monica Skewes as a member of MSU’s McNair Scholars Program.

She credits the McNair program with giving her the research experience, confidence and support to help her successfully apply and transition to graduate school. Program staff members helped Burns prepare for a graduate school entrance exam and review drafts of personal statements for her applications. She also benefited from their mentorship.

“They work with minority, low-income or first-generation students. I’m all of them,” Burns noted, adding that her dad is an enrolled tribal member. “They showed me that someone else actually does believe in me.”

Burns also received a scholarship through a local nonprofit organization, Hopa Mountain, and credits the organization’s executive director, Bonnie Sachatello-Sawyer, with providing invaluable support.

In addition, Burns was a Hilleman Scholar at MSU, a Horatio Alger Scholar and a member of MSU’s Spirit of the West Marching Band, as well as the Wind Symphony and Kappa Kappa Psi, an honorary band fraternity.

“All of these things helped me to stay at MSU,” she said. “I had that community here. Community is huge for me.”

Burns praised MSU counseling program faculty for creating a supportive, growth-oriented learning environment.

“The emotional growth that I have been through in this program is astounding,” she said. “I wasn’t expecting this program to impact me in the way that it has so far.”

She added that her grandmother died within months of her starting the program, which she called a “big life change that added an extra layer of challenge.” Faculty members were understanding and supportive as she dealt with grief, she said.

This year, Burns will complete a counseling internship with MSU’s Human Development Clinic. In the future, she would like to return home to the Flathead Indian Reservation and work as a counselor.

“There is a need (for counselors) there, and I want to help my community,” she said.

Dinette grew up in Colorado and received undergraduate degrees in psychology and Spanish with a concentration in neuroscience from the University of Denver. She was also a diver on the university’s swimming and diving team, which she said led her to the counseling field.

“There are so many pressures athletes face,” she said. “I started to get passionate about the mental health side of things.”

Dinette is also bilingual, speaking both English and Spanish, and was interested in finding a program that would enable her to incorporate her Spanish skills into her counseling work. That goal led her to MSU.

“MSU (faculty) said they would make it happen in some way … it worked out to be perfect timing.”

Dinette said she is now working with Spanish-speaking clients while under faculty supervision. Practicing counseling skills in Spanish is challenging, Dinette said, but there is also a need for counselors who can provide this service, which motivates her.

“As an undergrad, I worked with a Spanish-speaking family who told me how frustrating it was to try to get services in their native language,” she said. “It’s frustrating when there’s a huge need but not enough people to be able to provide that service.”

Like Burns, Dinette said MSU’s counseling program has pushed her to develop personally.

“The program has you explore different parts of yourself to learn how to better counsel others,” she noted. “It’s a difficult but really rewarding ongoing learning process.”

Dinette, who is Latina and Filipina, said her experiences as a racial minority were influential in her decision to seek the NBCC fellowship.

“After moving to small town Montana from Denver and witnessing how little race is talked about, a major part of my passion is to advocate for underprivileged groups and was a huge reason why I applied to the fellowship,” she said.

Dinette’s career goals include serving Spanish-speaking clients in a bilingual counseling clinic. Next year, she will provide bilingual counseling services through an internship with Community Health Partners in Bozeman.

“This will help me pursue my long-term goals of working in an integrated health community and understanding how different parts can interact to help clients,” Dinette said. “Through the ability to be bilingual, I’m also hoping in the future to reach populations that aren’t often looked at in research and practice.”

Rebecca Koltz, head of the MSU Department of Health and Human Development and a counseling professor, said counseling faculty are proud of both Dinette and Burns.

“The receipt of the fellowship is a well-deserved honor,” Koltz said. “What is equally special is that they both exhibit passion for counseling work and have a clear sense of purpose about how they want to apply their training in the future. I am excited to see what unfolds for each of them in this next year.”

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