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AU alumna named 'supervisor of the year' for Downstate Programs
6/13/12

Kathleen Atwell '61

Kathleen Atwell '61

Kathleen O’Donnell Atwell, a 1961 alumna of Alfred University, will be honored as "supervisor of the year" at the University’s annual Downstate Commencement ceremony, to be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at The Rotunda at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.

Atwell, a school counselor at the George Washington Young Adult Borough Center, will receive the award for her work with students in the master’s degree program in counseling offered through the University’s Downstate Program who are completing their practicum requirement.

Jay Cerio, director of Downstate Programs and a professor of school psychology, said that course instructors nominate supervisors for the award.

"Our criteria are the extend to which the supervisor goes above and beyond the minimum requirements to provide the student with a useful practicum experience, and the quality of the supervision, which we determine from student feedback," Cerio explained.

Robert Bitting, associate director of Downstate Programs, noted the University began honoring supervisors for their work on behalf of the students because "Our quality network of supervisors is one of the reasons that our programs have been so successful."

In five years, more than 400 students, most of whom are working full-time, had earned their master’s degrees in counseling, literacy education and public administration through the Downstate Program, attending classes evenings and weekends, and also spending two weeks a year for two years on the AU campus.

Atwell, who supervised David Trinidad, who will receive his degree in counseling Saturday and who will be among the class speakers, said she believes the AU students are "much more prepared" to be counselors than those enrolled in other master’s degree programs. "I find them tom be more well-rounded, and better candidates as counselors."

The YABC program is a popular one for AU’s students completing their practicum because it offers evening classes so the students who work full-time can complete their required hours after their regular workday is over.

In February 1962, Atwell took a job as an English teacher in the New York City schools. She taught for 17 and half years, and like the Downstate students, earned her degree to become a guidance counselor while working full-time. She switched careers to become a guidance counselor, which she did for 17 years before her retirement in June 1997.

Her retirement didn’t last long.

She began working as a counselor at a Young Adult Borough Center, a program that assists students who are at least 17 and a half years old, have completed at least 17 credits toward their high school diploma, and who are in their fifth year of high school.

Participants in the YABC program are referred by their home districts as being in danger of dropping out. "Many of them require such a mishmash of courses in order to earn their diplomas," Atwell said. "They may need freshman English and junior math; they may need to pass a Regents exam, or pass a competency exam. We try to give them what they need," in a setting that’s appropriate. "As a 19-year-old, they are not going to sit in a ninth grade classroom" with students who are much younger.

Many of them, she said, are parents themselves, and the YABC program works for them because they can care for their children during the day, and attend school evenings while a family member cares for their children.

Atwell is also an alcohol and substance abuse counselor. That’s important, and something she would like to see counseling programs offer more training in.