Students and staff participate in the 2015 Mental Health Awareness Day

A passion for positive change

Within the world of mental health and wellbeing, the new Rehabilitation and Human Services program at Wilkes-Barre seeks to mold the future professionals in this ever growing field in need of well-educated, compassionate individuals.
By: Rachel Rybicki

“In my two years at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, I have seen the public perception of mental health change dramatically,” explains Instructor of Rehabilitation and Human Services, Melisa Naylor. “There is truly a need to recognize mental health as a pertinent issue and as an overall component to one’s complete wellbeing.”

Last fall, Naylor in conjunction with the Blue & White Society and Student Activities Fee held a Mental Health Awareness Day. The four-hour event offered a variety of activities for the entire campus community designed to teach coping skills including 15-minute massage sessions, Play Dough, coloring, a Bouncy House, Twister, photo booths, and much more.

Staff and students use Twister as a stress reliever

Staff member Marissa Duffy and student Jesse Macko incorporate the classic game, Twister, into their day of stress relief at the 2015 Mental Health Awareness Day.

Credit: Clark Van Orden, The Times Leader Newspaper

To date, two hundred and five legislative bills regarding mental health have been introduced by members of the United States Government. Starting in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, introduced by both parties, mental health has become a rare topic the government can agree upon.

“As a result of tragic events such as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and the high percentage of military veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, legislators are looking for ways to expand treatment services,” states Naylor. “The stigmatizing feeling of seeking treatment is starting to become a thing of the past but, unfortunately it is still an issue that prevents people from seeking the help they need.”

The expansion of mental health hasn’t been limited to only legislation, education has also been influenced. Through the campus’ Continuing Education department, Naylor has taught several courses for social workers and other mental health professionals to keep current on the ever changing field. Additionally, since its introduction in 2014 at Penn State Wilkes-Barre, the Rehabilitation and Human Services (RHS) program has gained a steady following. Boasting one student at inception, the major now hosts ten students, an impressive growth in only two years.

“I did a volunteer project at a local homeless shelter and that was the deciding factor for me to look for jobs in the RHS field,” explains 2015 Administration of Justice graduate Amanda Jordan. “I had two courses with Ms. Naylor my last semester at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. I joked with her that I wish I knew about the major sooner because I'd have switched.”

Though Jordan is currently working in the RHS field, she was not an RHS graduate. The first two graduates from the program, Lindsey Shingler and Kelsey Whittaker, will walk across the stage at the Spring 2016 Commencement.

Shingler and Whittaker are both currently interning at Children’s’ Service Center, in Tunkhannock and Wilkes-Barre, respectively.

“I’ve been sitting in on a therapy called Parent-Child Interaction. There is a one way mirror that we sit behind and the therapist coaches the parent on how to have positive interactions with their child in the first part of the therapy,” describes Shingler. “There is a second part that teaches the parent how to use a time out with the child. Watching the children get better has been the best part of the internship. I have seen people making progress just in the past few months.”

“Organizations throughout our region and in neighboring states are hiring as the need increases,” Naylor says. “They are looking for well-educated, competent applicants who, above all, have a passion for making positive changes in people’s lives. This is something we instill in our students both in and out of the classroom. Having a six hundred hour internship on their resume immediately sets them apart.”

Both Shingler and Whittaker’s post graduate plans include full time employment at Children’s Services Center. Whittaker will also be attending the University of Scranton working towards her M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling.

“The RHS program truly prepared me especially since the professors have real world knowledge. They don't just teach from the book they pull real world information out for us to learn,” states Whittaker. “If Melisa Naylor and Garrett Huck didn't push me, I would have lagged in my internship.”

“One of the coolest things I’ve found coming to a small campus is the one-on-one personal attention I’m able to give my students,” explains Assistant Professor of Rehabilitation and Human Services, Garrett Huck. “Not only am I able to impart theory on them, but I’m also able to help them assess their interests in a hands on way. RHS is so broad with many different career options but also providing an excellent foundation for graduate school. With the small campus environment, I’m able to help my students understand the value of the wide scope of future endeavors before them.”