UMSL’s 2011 School Psychology cohort graduated on May 18. The group continued the program’s high job placement rate. Pictured are (front row, from left) Jenny Brilley, Christina White, Mary Herbst, Kristina Licata, Nicole Cooley and Heather Quach; and (back row, from left) Kelly Forsythe, Christy Gaeta, Don Gouwens and Mike Bahr. Carrie Hegdahl is not pictured.

It was not just the classroom potlucks or group study sessions that made California native Nicole Cooley feel at home in the graduate school psychology program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“My cohort was great!” she said. “We were all really close and supported each other through our graduate school experience. We all could go to each other for help or support for classes, practicum experiences and general information. Coming from out of state, it was nice to meet a group of women who were so welcoming and who helped me adjust to a new area.”

That cohort of nine women, not only became lifelong friends, but they also continued the successful job placement rate of the College of Education’s Educational Specialist in School Psychology Program.

Each graduate received and accepted a job offer prior to their May 18 commencement. The first graduates of the program, which is Missouri’s only National Association of School Psychologists-approved program, received their degrees in 2006. Since then, 74 degrees have been conferred, and all of the graduates have received job offers within a month of graduation. In fact, most of the job offers came prior to graduation.

Donald Gouwens, associate clinical professor and chair of the Department of Educational Psychology, Research and Evaluation at UMSL, is coordinator of the program. He credits the program’s success to three things: high demand, limited supply and an outstanding field in which to work.

But it’s also the people, he said.

“This particular cohort always is so willing to give and appreciative for what they have received,” Gouwens said. “They exhibit exceptional commitment to the field of school psychology, their classmates, and ultimately the students they serve via involvement and leadership in the student, state and national organizations for school psychologists.”

For Cooley, the students she will serve will be in the Fort Worth (Texas) Independent School District where she will begin her position as a school psychologist in July.

She’s excited about her move and beginning her career, which she credits to the program faculty.

“The professors in my program made a huge impact on me and my future career,” Cooley said. “They were all passionate about working with children and seeing that our field makes an impact on our community and in our schools. I felt like my graduate program was a good experience where everyone took the time to mentor and get to know you as a professional and individual person. They were all dedicated to us learning our field and finding our special interests and niche in the profession.”

Mary Herbst began the program because she wanted to become a school psychologist in her hometown.

“Having grown up in St. Louis, I knew I wanted to stay and give back to the city that I love,” Herbst said. “I loved the focus of the UMSL school psychology program; I truly believe that early intervention and prevention are more effective and in children’s best interests. The way the program is built with cohorts and working under two primary professors seemed like the perfect fit. The program’s graduation and job placement rates were also big factors.”

So it was no surprise when she was offered and accepted a position with Special School District of St. Louis County where she’s wrapping up an internship.

“I’m very excited to be back next year,” she said.

Jenny Brilley wasn’t sure where she wanted to go after graduation, but she had choices.

“I applied to be a school psychologist in three school districts and received three job offers,” she said. “It was amazing that I had the opportunity to choose where to work as a school psychologist. I accepted a job from Ft. Zumwalt School District in O’Fallon, Mo. I will be a school psychologist for Early Childhood Special Education. I will evaluate and identify young children who require or need special education before entering elementary school.”

Brilley said she feels that her multiple job offers are a direct reflection of UMSL’s program.

“Because UMSL is a nationally certified program, it allows me to work anywhere in the country as a school psychologist,” she said. “By being nationally certified, I knew UMSL would provide me with an excellent education that was reflective of national standards. Also, I really liked that UMSL’s school psychology program was competitive, which allowed class sizes to be smaller. I was able to build great relationships with all of my professors and classmates.”

Kelly Forsythe is thankful for the program’s focus on real-life experiences and skill development. She has accepted a position as the assistant director of student activities at Longwood University in Farmville, Va.

“One of my first big projects will be to develop an assessment process to ensure that students in the organization and the students who attend the events are gaining knowledge and skills as a result of their participation. I feel confident that I will do an incredible job because throughout the UMSL program I have been offered unique educational experiences including assisting school professionals in conducting research in different schools in the St. Louis area.”

The UMSL Experience

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton