Say you’ve just graduated on one of the neighbor islands with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. You want to get a master’s degree next, so you can become a school counselor and make a positive difference to your community’s students and their families—but there’s no appropriate master’s program on your island. Chaminade University is the only Hawai‘i university that offers a Master of Science in Counseling Psychology (MSCP) program with a concentration in School Counseling. You’d have to quit your job and relocate to O‘ahu for two-and-a-half years.
Or rather, that would have been your only choice last year.
Starting this spring semester, exclusively for neighbor island students, Chaminade will offer an online version of its Master of Science degree in Counseling Psychology (MSCP) with the School Counseling concentration. It solves two problems—not only that of neighbor island student demand but also the state’s need for more trained school counselors throughout Hawai‘i.
Dr. Darren Iwamoto, clinical director of School Counseling in Chaminade’s School of Education and Behavioral Sciences, says neighbor island students have always been interested in the MSCP program, and it’s always been hard for the school to meet that need because administrators assumed they needed to teach it in person. Pre-COVID-19, they had started working on a plan to send instructors to Maui and Hawai‘i Island to offer the MSCP program there.
But then came the pandemic, and with it, of course, remote learning. Iwamoto says the university discovered something surprising.
“Our faculty found they can be just as effective at teaching using Zoom and other kinds of video conferencing,” he says. He said they found online education still provided personalized learning and allowed students to connect with one another. “Our instructors found that even when they couldn’t teach in person, they were successfully getting that human interaction over video. It was working.”
The department conducted a needs assessment to see if there was current demand for the MSCP program among neighbor island students, and it came back positive. So they decided to start an online program specifically for neighbor island students.
While the School Counseling focus starts this spring, Chaminade will begin offering online versions of the other two Counseling Psychology concentrations, Mental Health and Marriage and Family, in the fall. Once all three concentrations are offered this fall, they will be available to students located anywhere.
“At that point, we’ll be running a complete MSCP online program alongside the in-person program,” says Iwamoto. “So students won’t have to fly to O‘ahu. Although they can participate in the in-person commencement.”
The online, 60-credit-hour, cohorted School Counseling program is taught in four 10-week terms per year. The year-round program, geared toward working professionals, can be completed in 30 months.
Upon completing the program, students not only receive a master’s in counseling psychology but are also eligible for a provisional K-12 counseling license and to be hired as a school counselor. “Because they’re trained in school counseling in general, they will also have the skillset and knowledge to work as a counselor in our private and charter schools,” says Iwamoto.
He says that while school counselors have always been crucial, that need has been even more significant since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago. He says stress, anxiety, and mood challenges, which were already high, have increased with COVID.
“What we’re finding is that the lack of social connection has probably played the biggest role in altering people’s moods,” he says. “That’s where counselors can really help, especially in regards to social-emotional learning and helping students, especially the younger ones, learn how to regulate their emotions better.”
As the school developed its MS in Counseling Psychology program, it carefully considered the university’s Marianist values, including the importance of providing an integral quality education. The program was specifically designed with an “integral quality education” in mind by ensuring it educates the whole person. It does this by not only focusing on academics. “We also educate them in terms of their personal and social development, and spiritually, in terms of getting them in tune with who they are and their value systems, ethics, and morals,” says Iwamoto.
“When students go on to become school counselors, they pass those same values on to the community,” he says. “They support students and their families and make a positive difference in their lives.”
The program also meets the Chaminade value of educating for adaptation and change. “That’s really what all this is about,” says Iwamoto. “Educating students to improve on their social-emotional skills is actually educating them for adaptation and change, for that ability to adapt and be flexible. That’s really been a theme with COVID, and so that’s what we’re promoting.”
The Master of Science in Counseling Psychology program is part of Chaminade’s School of Education and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Dale Fryxell, Dean of the School of Education and Behavioral Sciences, says there’s long been a need for more trained school counselors, who play such an essential role in helping students, on the neighbor islands. “This program will really help our neighbor island students get the training they need to help students in their own communities with mental health and other issues.”
“School counselors really do help mold the future by emphasizing the importance of education and promoting students’ success,” agrees Dr. Lynn Babington, Chaminade University president.
“We’re so glad to be able to take the MSCP school counseling program online,” she says. “There’s a need on the neighbor islands, and when more of our neighbor island students become licensed school counseling professionals, they will truly be able to make a powerful difference in students’ lives.”