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Portrait of Gia Casaburo

New counseling center opening to better address student needs

By Blake Sebring

August 15, 2023

As it strives to meet the individual needs of students campus-wide, Purdue University Fort Wayne is showcasing its new Center for Student Counseling with an open house from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesday. The center is located on the ground floor of Kettler Hall at the end of the corridor between the Department of Anthropology and Einstein Bros. Bagels.

The goal is to provide more services to students by offering greater flexibility and improved access.

“I think it’s becoming more normal to voice if something is going on or to be more open about any mental health concerns you may have,” said Gia Casaburo, the center’s director who received a master’s degree from the university in 2018. “I believe there is still a lot of pressure within being a college student, and sometimes there are concerns about sharing going on.”

The expanded services are free to students who are allowed an unlimited number of counseling visits. The center will officially open on Monday, though some students have already started scheduling appointments, which can be handled by calling 260-481-6200 or by visiting the center’s new website.

Hours of operation will be 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, and 9 a.m. to noon on Fridays. Appointments are available in person or via telehealth.

Krissy Surface, vice chancellor for enrollment management and the student experience, believes the new system will allow the school to be nimble and proactive in reacting to mental health needs on campus—providing outreach, training, and intervention—while allowing counselors to build relationships with students inside and outside the center.

“There are few things as critical as supporting the mental health of our students,” Surface said. “As we work to continue to advance the holistic wellness of our students across curricular and co-curricular activities, ensuring that they are mentally and physically well helps them be the best version of themselves during their time in college.”

According to Kerrie Fineran, interim associate vice chancellor for student wellness, students on campus will have access to more free mental health care and supportive counseling than ever before. The center will initially offer scheduled individual counseling sessions and walk-in care during operating hours. Individual sessions will be available to all enrolled students, and counselors will work with them to develop specialized goals and plans for treatment.

Students may also schedule appointments for couples/relationship counseling and family counseling as long as the student is an active participant in the session. In the coming months, services will be expanded to include group counseling.

“Another goal will be for us to offer training and consultation on mental health topics for groups across campus that are designed to meet the needs of faculty/staff, departments, athletics, housing, and student organizations,” Fineran said. “We want to create a culture of wellness across campus, and be a support to everyone who serves students.”

The staff includes Casaburo, and Tim Hill, M.S. ‘21, another PFW counselor education graduate, as the full-time clinician.

Drake Turner, B.S. ’15, who remained on campus to seek a master’s degree, serves as a graduate assistant, and current PFW counseling education graduate students Alexis Porter and Kaliyat Gamba are interns.

“What we want to do is focus on what we call high-level wellness, social, emotional, physical, and spiritual health,” Fineran said. “We’re not trying to solve every problem or take away all the struggles—we’re trying to help people learn to manage and cope. We have a long-term rollout planned that we are going to be helping students with their mental health, but also supporting their higher-level wellness. We want our students to be holistically well and ready to take on the world.”

The facility includes a low-sensory room designed by Maeghan Mier, assistant director of the Disability Access Center, a study room, relaxation space, and a wellness resource library. Team members are also working with Well-being and Recreation to establish a satellite food pantry.

After implementing the initial program over this first academic year, Fineran has a three-year plan to expand services to promote wellness across the campus community. That may include additional training for staff and faculty.

“People are talking more about receiving help or the service they receive,” Casaburo said. “Maybe friends are more likely to recommend going to counseling, and maybe there’s more of a dialogue around mental health. The university is committed and willing to take steps even further reduce that stigma, and I think creating a wellness space for students is one of those important steps.”