UMSL students gathered during the Cultural Competence Institute-St. Louis to discuss cultural understanding. The institute is a five-day intensive cultural competence immersion experience for students in the school of counseling program at UMSL. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Professional counselor-in-training David McGraw has a deeper understanding of the community he grew up in thanks to the summer institute at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

“The Cultural Competence Institute-St. Louis has given me a more holistic view of society and has crystallized many of the ideas from my coursework that were relatively abstract beforehand,” said McGraw, a master’s student in the school counseling program at UMSL.

The UMSL Cultural Competence Institute-St. Louis is a weeklong program created by Brian Hutchison, assistant professor of counseling and family therapy at UMSL.

“The institute is a five-day intensive cultural competence immersion experience,” said Hutchison. “Our goal is to place ourselves in different geographic spaces throughout St. Louis to meaningfully interact with communities representing those spaces.”

During the week, students visited various agencies including Job Corps, St. Louis Arc, Missouri School for the Blind, Center for Survivors of Torture & War Trauma and Growing American Youth. They also heard from several groups and people with varying backgrounds.

“The hands-on experience has given me renewed and vivid motivation – an impetus to continue to integrate my experiences as they unfold and to always remember: people have value,” said McGraw. “The counseling profession holds that simple idea near and dear. It is important to recognize that part of my identity as a professional counselor-in-training is to embody this foundational concept. We all will benefit when we value each interaction with one another as an opportunity to enrich our lives.”

Kellian Hanks, a school counseling education graduate student at UMSL, said the institute taught her more than she ever expected.

“What I took away from attending the institute was being able to be exposed to so many different places and people in only five days,” Hanks said. “We visited places in St. Louis that I have never heard of before, and I grew up here. I will be forever grateful that I was able to attend such an inspiring and touching class. It will impact me as a professional because it opened my eyes to different races, cultures and religions that I may have to work with as a school counselor. I feel the more experience I have, the better I can serve my student clients.”

What made the experience so unique is that participants actually traveled to the locations, learning first hand about each place and its people.

“I think the general mood of the Institute, established by physically moving to the various locations around St. Louis and really feeling the spaces and people, is what has become a part of me and my daily experience since that intense and immersive week,” McGraw said. “This institute made me more aware of the complexities of St. Louis history, especially the socioeconomic conditions in which certain areas of this city are in, the amazing efforts of people in those areas to nurture the lives of their residents and opportunities for me to do the same. Change is inevitable, and we all can make efforts to participate in our communities, to embrace altruistic movements and witness change for the better.”

The UMSL Experience

Jen Hatton

Jen Hatton