Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Counselor Education and Supervision doctoral student Tevin Middleton has been granted funds for his research into how school mental health can be bolstered to improve minority student matriculation along the K-20 educational continuum. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is awarding Middleton $124,000 through its Health Policy Research Scholars program.

“I am honored to be selected, and I am grateful for the support of the Grad Success Center and the College of Education’s Grant and Research Services Center with each phase of the application process,” says Middleton.

The opportunity was open nation-wide and included a vigorous application process.

“When I looked at the Health Policy Research Scholars website, I got excited because it seemed to support minority doctoral students not only matriculate through their programs but also gain skills to leverage research to promote healthy and more equitable communities through research and policy,” says Middleton.

Middleton received his bachelor of social work and Masters of Education Counselor Education from Augusta University. When he was considering his doctorate, Meredith Rausch, an Augusta University professor and UI alumna, recommended he consider coming to the University of Iowa. He was interested in the doctoral program in Counselor Education and Supervision (CES).

“I was intrigued by the CES Program’s performance, CES faculty engagement in research that interested me, the College of Education’s commitment to the success of minority students detailed in the strategic plan, and the presence of the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health,” Middleton says. “I had been doing things as a school counselor and school-based mental health counselor that were a perfect match for the work and aim of the center.”  

Middleton became involved with the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health in the fall of 2022. As a Workforce Expansion Trainee, he has provided consultation to rural school counselors on integrating school mental health in their work and worked with ImagineIowa and BEST+Well, two mental health interventions that promote mental literacy in Iowa’s schools.

Middleton is from North Augusta, South Carolina, and will graduate in Spring 2026. His research aims to increase the educational attainment of minority youth by bolstering school mental health supports and increasing the representation of minorities in the counseling workforce. In his career, Middleton plans to work in higher education as a professor of counselor education.  

Middleton says that researching mental health resources, supports, and systems within a school environment is personal.

“I know first-hand the impact of schools and the folks who comprise them because they helped me during a difficult time. I’ve also seen it with my close friends,” he says. “Later, as a school counselor, I stepped in during pivotal moments, such as with a student who struggled to attend school or graduate because of the trauma they experienced.”

Middleton says factors such as adverse childhood experiences, a national school counselor shortage, low utilization of and access to mental health services, the use of exclusionary discipline, lack of educator mental health literacy, systemic racism, impoverished communities and limitations of educators’ cultural competence can all contribute to lower matriculation for minority students.

“Equipping educators and schools to promote mental health as wellness – from prevention to referral/treatment—in their day-to-day work, addressing the shortage of school counselors, increasing minority representation in the counseling profession, and engaging whole communities can help shift the narrative where minority students are excluded or barely get through K-12,” Middleton says, “so that they can pursue education and training after high school while also having the skills to sustain their employment or enrollment in post-secondary education programs such as counseling.”

Gerta Bardhoshi, a professor of school counseling, is Middleton’s advisor and she recruited him to through the Scanlan Center Workforce Expansion program.

“Through our center, Tevin has been given the opportunity to contribute to a curriculum that trains hundreds of Iowa educators in mental health awareness skills and has honed his skills to advocate for prioritizing mental health in schools with multiple stakeholders,” Bardhoshi says. “Having access to multiple researchers, mentors, educators, and policymakers through his affiliation with the center has been an invaluable part of his success story.”

Middleton says Bardhoshi has been an important mentor for him, as well as Randall Boen, an assistant professor in the Department of Counselor Education, and Ebonee Johnson, an assistant professor in the Community and Behavioral Health Department at the College of Public Health.

He says the Scanlan Center and CES program have connected him to a network of professionals with the common mission of improving school mental health.

“The Scanlan Center and the staff are modeling how I hope to train my future students,” Middleton says. “With the center, the classroom for training practitioners is not confined by four walls, but is as large or as wide as the community, or in this case, state, it is nested in.”