Thursday, April 27, 2017

By Andy Goodell

Former dentist finds passion for rehab counseling

Nearly a decade into his career, Steven Faulkner (MA ’88), faced the reality that he would no longer be able to practice dentistry in Cedar County, Iowa, due to his progressive blindness.

Faulkner began to notice there was an issue with his vision when he started experiencing “night blindness” that caused him to bump into things in dark rooms and pre-vented him from driving after sunset. Faulkner was eventually told by an ophthalmologist that he would go blind and that there was no available treatment plan.

“I was in shock,” says Faulkner. “I remember just feeling sick. I was thinking, ‘Uh oh, I’m cooked.’”

Thankfully, Faulkner eventually found a new purpose in life through the Department of Rehabilitation and Counselor Education. Faulkner says he became inspired to re-turn to school after a discussion with Professor Emeritus Dennis Maki.

“After talking with Dennis, I knew I wanted to be the guy that had the answers for people whose careers were ended by disabilities,” says Faulkner.

Faulkner says his experience prepared him well for his second career as a rehabilitation counselor, noting there was a great focus on the history and philosophy of rehabilitation counseling in the program. Faulkner learned both rehabilitation counseling theory and how to read research, beneficial knowledge for his new line of work.

Perhaps most important, though, was the support system he had in place from both fellow students and his professors. He says they helped him find his true passion in life.

“The people I was in classes with were all very supportive and counseling-type people,” Faulkner says. “When I left dentistry, I was pretty shaken. I left the career of my dreams and was feeling pretty insecure.

It was an unexpected pleasure to be encouraged along the way. The professors there were encouraging and that meant a lot to me.”

Maki helped Faulkner to “connect the dots” in his learning about rehabilitation counseling education, which meant the world to the former dentist. The late professor emeritus, Ralph Roberts, was also consistent-y there for him.

“Ralph would let me talk to him after class,” says Faulkner, half joking. “I once had this brilliant idea for how to do a project aimed at helping dentists who have disability-related issues. I hadn’t thought it through very well, so it was way out there. He listened to me attentively, and encouraged me to continue thinking ‘outside the box.’ That meant a lot to me.”

By early 1989, Faulkner began working as a rehabilitation counselor with Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services (IVRS), serving Mitchell County. Since 2001, Faulkner has been a supervisor of a group of rehabilitation professionals at the IVRS Mason City Area Office. In that time, he’s seen the long-term impact being made by his office, which has taught him to approach his work and the work of his team in an ever-evolving manner.

Faulkner and his team helped 159 North Iowans with disabilities to achieve employment success during fiscal year 2016. The people his IVRS Mason City Area Office served include those with a variety of disability-related barriers to employment. These individuals require intensive, specialized rehabilitation services to be successful in their chosen occupations.

“I want to teach them the importance of the counseling process in rehabilitation, and the tremendous opportunity that VR (vocational rehabilitation) counselors have to impact the lives of our friends and neighbors who have disabilities and want to work” Faulkner says. “I find the ability to make a difference very rewarding.”

Read more from the 2017 Alumni Magazine.