Professor receives grant to expand counselor education program


Photo by Katerina Pourliakas

The project will expand upon the master’s counseling education program, specifically the clinical rehabilitation counseling specialization.

A $750,000 grant from the United States Department of Education was recently awarded to Lee Za Ong, an assistant professor of counselor education and counseling psychology in the College of Education. Ong received the grant for her project entitled “Increasing the Supply and Improving the Skills of Qualified Rehabilitation Counselors with Mental Illness Specialties in Milwaukee and Southeastern Wisconsin.”

The project will expand upon the master’s counseling education program, specifically the clinical rehabilitation counseling specialization, by providing partial scholarships to local students pursuing a career in the field. These scholarships will effectively reduce the price of tuition by 50% for five qualified students annually over the course of the next five years.

“Dr. Ong’s grant provides the College of Education with the extraordinary opportunity to support 25 diverse graduate students in our new Rehabilitation Counseling program,” William Henk, dean of the College of Education, said in an email. “The professional preparation these aspiring mental health professionals will receive through this funding figures to exert a far reaching impact on future clients who present as differently abled.”

Ong elaborated on her efforts to receive such a grant.

“I wrote a 49 page proposal,” Ong said. “I had to prove our university was the best place for the grant.”

Marquette is a prime destination to receive this kind of funding, Ong said. Given the university’s location in the heart of Milwaukee, the city’s diverse nature, the optimal student-to-faculty ratio and Marquette’s Jesuit mission, Ong said the program is poised to make a positive difference in a community that needs it.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for rehabilitation counselors is expected to increase by a margin of 10% over the next decade. This projected spike comes with the growth of the elderly population and the continued counseling needs of veterans and those with disabilities.

“There is a significant shortage of Rehabilitation Counselors nationally and in Wisconsin. This grant is intended to support the training of future Rehabilitation Counselors and to increase access to qualified professionals,” Alan Burkard, director of training for the doctoral program in counseling psychology, said in an email.

Ong also said she hopes to recruit students from the local area — Milwaukee and southeastern Wisconsin — from a plethora of cultural backgrounds.

“I think individuals from southeastern Wisconsin have a greater commitment to helping this community,” Ong said. “Which is something we need from local counselors.”

The project also partners with the Wisconsin Division of Vocational Rehabilitation so students of the program can be employed locally upon graduation.

Ong said she looks forward to providing more “good, competent counselors” to serve people of the community with disabilities.

The grant marks a high point for the program, the department and the university.

“This is the first time our program has obtained a prestigious grant such as this,” Lisa Edwards, director of counselor education, said. “It gives us the chance to provide financial support for our students in this field. We are thrilled that Lee Za Ong was able to successfully obtain this grant as her work will have a strong influence on our ability to train more rehabilitation counselors. This work is a direct reflection of Marquette’s mission and values.”