Counseling PhD candidate Rattanakorn ‘Gon’ Ratanashevorn wins prestigious Ralph F. Berdie Memorial Research Award

by | Apr 15, 2024

The award encourages and provides support for research in the area of college student affairs and related areas of counseling and education.
Rattanakorn “Gon” Ratanashevorn

In February, UMSL doctoral counseling student Rattanakorn “Gon” Ratanashevorn won the American Counseling Association’s 2024 Ralph F. Berdie Memorial Research Award. The award aims to encourage and provide support for research in the area of college student affairs or related areas of counseling and education. (Photo by Derik Holtmann)

When Rattanakorn “Gon” Ratanashevorn thinks back on his childhood in Bangkok, he recalls his first dream job clearly.

“I wanted to be known as a professional singer, which I dropped because, of course, it’s a very competitive field,” he said with a laugh.

While Ratanashevorn continued to have an interest in music, he began searching for another path. He became intrigued by psychology – a field he says was just gaining broader acceptance in Thailand in the 2000s.

“I enrolled in a counseling class, and it turns out that I performed pretty well,” he said. “I received a lot of positive feedback. That’s when I started to explore what’s inside of me that could lead to me maybe being a good counselor.”

Over the ensuing years, Ratanashevorn proved to have the skill and passion necessary to become a first-rate counselor and researcher. That’s evidenced by his work as a doctoral student in the College of Education’s counseling program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.

In February, he won the American Counseling Association’s 2024 Ralph F. Berdie Memorial Research Award for his work on counseling best practices that contribute to the academic and social success of LGBTQ+ college students. The award aims to encourage and provide support for research in the area of college student affairs or related areas of counseling and education.

“It feels amazing to have my work recognized,” Ratanashevorn said. “I have a lot of passion that I really want to advocate for the field of counseling and advocate particularly for the LGBTQ+ population. For them to recognize me and to see that there’s really some value of how I can extend myself and contribute further to the field, I think that’s very validating.”

The award also came with a $300 prize and complimentary registration for the 2024 ACA Conference and Expo. Assistant Professor Phillip Waalkes, who has worked closely with Ratanashevorn in the counseling program, said the accolade is well deserved.

“Gon is an outstanding researcher as evidenced by his winning multiple research awards and being published in one of the best research journals in the counseling field, Journal of Counseling Development, something that is remarkable as a doctoral student,” Waalkes said. “He is skilled at designing qualitative studies that address important problems in the counseling field and designing qualitative studies with intentionality and rigor to address these issues.”

Before coming to UMSL, Ratanashevorn earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s degree in counseling psychology from Chulalongkorn University in his native Thailand. As an undergraduate, an internship at a rehabilitation facility fueled his desire to continue studying psychology and mental health.

At the same time, he was coming to terms with accepting his sexual orientation and working through how that acceptance affected his relationship with his family. It inspired him to become an advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and a mental health professional who could offer support for members of the community from a place of empathy and understanding.

Going into graduate school, Ratanashevorn had anticipated earning a terminal degree. However, his master’s program required a thesis as well as a practicum – a course of study that took him four years to complete.

“I was so burnt out,” he said. “I was exhausted, and I told myself, ‘Whatever dream you had for yourself, let’s just stall it for now. Let’s push it back.’”

Ratanashevorn then began working for his alma mater as a counselor at the Chula Student Wellness Center, where he eventually got the push he needed to pursue his doctorate.

In 2017, Robert K. Conyne, professor emeritus in counseling at the University of Cincinnati, went to Chulalongkorn University to serve as an honorary specialist at the wellness center through a Fulbright Scholarship. Ratanashevorn served as his guide and translator, and the two built a professional rapport.

Conyne saw Ratanashevorn’s potential and encouraged him to further his education in the United States. Conyne also introduced him to the late Mark Pope, the Thomas Jefferson Professor and Curators’ Distinguished Professor Emeritus at UMSL. In 2019, Ratanashevorn enrolled at UMSL – a decision he has never doubted.

Pope was one of several mentors who have guided Ratanashevorn at UMSL and made him feel at home in St. Louis. Professor Susan Kashubeck-West’s support in particular has been indispensable.

“She has been phenomenally helpful,” Ratanashevorn said. “She’s an awesome guide in my educational journey. She’s more than an educator. She genuinely and truly cares and sees me for who I really am. Sometimes there are some cultural barriers and differences, but I could always feel that she tried to really be there for me thoroughly.”

Rattanakorn “Gon” Ratanashevorn

Rattanakorn “Gon” Ratanashevorn accepts the 2024 Ralph F. Berdie Memorial Research Award last week at the ACA Conference and Expo in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Rattanakorn “Gon” Ratanashevorn)

Assistant Professor So Rin Kim and Waalkes have also been instrumental in helping Ratanashevorn refine his research and publication submissions. At Waalkes’ behest, he applied for and won a research grant from the Association of Assessment and Research in Counseling, a division of the ACA. That grant focuses on multicultural aspects of assessment and research in counseling, while his PhD dissertation is aimed at developing an empirical model to cultivate cultural competency and cultural humility practices to better serve LGBTQ+ clients.

That PhD research laid the foundation for the Berdie Award. With that research grant, Ratanashevorn narrowed his focus to college campuses. He seeks to identify best practices by gathering the perspectives of college seniors close to graduation, who used counseling services and found them useful.

“I want to learn from their success story and how college counseling or student affairs services really contributed to their success,” he said.

Ratanashevorn received the Berdie Award last week at the ACA Conference and Expo in New Orleans. He is also on track to finish his dissertation by the end of the summer and has already accepted a full-time post-graduate position as an assistant professor of professional mental health counseling at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon.

“I feel forever grateful and thankful for all of the support and everyone along the journey – my family, my parents, my siblings, my niece and nephew – recent additions – my friends way back in Thailand, all of my teachers and professors, everyone who I can’t really thank enough,” he said. “I don’t really think the success or whatever achievement I have right now is just mine alone. I want to express my gratitude. I don’t even think words can describe how thankful I am to them. My achievement is a tribute to them.”

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