Purdue Profiles: Bonnie Colon

March 10, 2015  

Bonnie Colon

Bonnie Colon, clinical associate professor for counseling and development graduate studies in education (Photo provided) 

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When Bonnie Colon became a widow with two young children, she decided she wanted a career in which she could help other children learn to cope with stressful and traumatic experiences in their lives.

Colon is a clinical associate professor for counseling and development graduate studies in education at Purdue Calumet, where she earned her master's degree in counseling. Colon spent 15 years as a high school counselor in Indiana and Illinois before returning to Purdue Calumet, first serving as a visiting instructor before assuming her current position. Because of her love for school counseling, Colon constantly instills in her graduate students a commitment to and affection for the profession. Recently, the Indiana School Counselor Association honored Colon with the Exemplary Counselor Educator Award, which is a testament to the positive influence she's had on her students' lives.

Could you describe the courses you teach?

The courses I teach at Purdue Calumet are primarily related to school counseling, although I do teach several courses that include both school counseling and clinical mental health students. In my classes, I try to expose my students to as many "real life" school counseling experiences as possible to prepare them for the types of situations that they are likely to encounter once they are working in the schools. I do this primarily through group activities, class discussions and class projects.

What do you enjoy most about teaching at Purdue Calumet?

By far, what I most enjoy about teaching at Purdue Calumet is working with the students in the Counseling & Development Program. I have great respect for our students, many of whom are first-generation college students, work full time, have families and yet are conscientious, dedicated, curious and open to learning all they can about the counseling profession. I often say, sincerely, that I learn as much from my students as they learn from me.

What does it take to be a successful school counselor?

I believe the one characteristic every school counselor needs to demonstrate is caring and acceptance of his or her students. Unfortunately, many students today do not have anyone in their lives who provides that caring and acceptance. Having one adult in school demonstrating that level of care can make all the difference for a child or adolescent in his or her ability to be academically successful.

What's the most challenging aspect of school counseling?

One of the challenges is the lack of understanding on the part of school administrators, legislators and the public as to what the actual role of the school counselor should be. School counselors are trained to work with students in the areas of academics, college and career readiness and social/emotional issues. This goes beyond the traditional "guidance counselor" role that is often ascribed to them. Because of this lack of understanding, school counselors are often assigned responsibilities that are inappropriate, including the coordination of standardized testing, which in this era of "high stakes testing" takes away critical time that could be spent assisting students. The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has been working hard to advocate for a better understanding of the school counselor profession. 

Another challenge is the student-to-school-counselor ratio in most schools. The ASCA recommends a ratio of 250:1. In a national survey conducted in 2011, Indiana ranked 44th in the nation with a ratio of 620:1. The most recent available figures from 2014-15 indicate that Indiana's average student-to-counselor ratio is 634:1. Having so many students assigned to an individual counselor makes it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the ever-expanding needs of the students being served.

Writer: Kourtney Freiburger, 49-69223, kfreibu@purdue.edu 

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