our voices mackenzie suttles

Our Voices: Mackenzie Suttles

Mackenzie Suttles received her master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling from the College of Education & Human Development in 2016 and is a doctoral student in the counselor education and practice program. She also serves as the program coordinator for Georgia State University’s Inclusive Digital Expression and Literacy (IDEAL) program.

Q: What led you to our Department of Counseling and Psychological Services and why did you choose to earn your doctorate here?

I got my master’s in clinical rehabilitation counseling here. I loved the program and knew I wanted to continue my education. After supervision and consultation from Dr. Gilbride and Dr. Dispenza, I decided to further my education and get my doctorate here at Georgia State.

Q: You serve as the program coordinator for the university’s Inclusive Digital Expression and Literacy (IDEAL) program. Can you describe this program and your role in it?

Through the Center for Leadership and Disability and the School of Public Health, Georgia State University opened the Inclusive Digital Expression and Literacy (IDEAL) program two years ago to provide higher education to students with mild intellectual disabilities who typically would not be represented on college campuses. Due to Georgia State’s location in Atlanta, which has become a global hub for art, media and film, IDEAL focuses on digital expression. IDEAL students audit Georgia State courses, participate in internships and engage socially on campus in activities, clubs and events. As the program coordinator, I have the wonderful opportunity to work with professors across colleges, department faculty, master’s level and honors college student peer mentors, undergraduate volunteers, prospective students and community partners. This program would not be possible without all the different hands involved and variety of hats people play day in and day out.

Q: What initially sparked your interest in counselor education and practice?

I graduated from Auburn University with my bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation services and disability services knowing that I wanted to go into occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech or counseling but I wasn’t exactly sure which one. I strategically decided not to apply to schools while at Auburn and to take a year to figure out what I was most passionate about. I worked for Families of Children Under Stress (FOCUS) for a year and a half as their teen and young adult coordinator and absolutely fell in love with the work I was doing. I had the opportunity to work one-on-one and in groups with the teens and young adults as well as engage with their families. During the spring of 2014, a friend recommended I meet with someone she knew, Dr. Gilbride. I had never heard of clinical rehabilitation counseling but after meeting with Dr. Gilbride it seemed to be the fit I had been looking for.

Q: What was your experience in the clinical rehabilitation counseling master’s program like? What led you to move toward a doctorate in counselor education and practice?

Not knowing what rehabilitation counseling was before meeting with Dr. Gilbride, I still was not 100 percent sure what to expect. But I absolutely loved my experience in the master’s program. The passion, knowledge and energy of my professors and the cohesion of my cohort made my experience unbelievable. The classes that I took were aligned with my interest and passion, which made the studying and coursework much more enjoyable. I was challenged in many ways but clinical rehabilitation counseling was the perfect fit for me.

I had always thought about a doctoral program and people asked if I was interested, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it really meant or what type of program I was most interested in. I participated on Dr. Dispenza’s research team my first year of the program, which sparked an interest in research. After engaging in numerous conversations with doctoral students on his research team and meeting with Dr. Dispenza and Dr. Gilbride, I decided to take that next step and apply. During that time, Dr. Gilbride introduced me to Dr. Roach, who was in the process of developing the IDEAL program. After learning about the program, I immediately knew that if I got in, developing and starting this program was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.

Q: How has your time from the M.S. program varied with your experiences now in a Ph.D. program?

The doctoral program has many similarities to my master’s experience, largely because I stayed at the same university, college, building and floor. The sense of community is still present and the level of support is greater than I could have ever expected. One of the biggest adjustments is the relationship between professors and master’s students versus professors and doctoral students. As a master’s student, I felt more like a student whereas in the doctoral program, there are is a lot of collaboration between professors and doctoral students making me feel more like a colleague. They truly believe in you.

Q: What has the second year in your doctoral program brought you?

Challenges, patience, trusting the process, community, connection and believing in myself.

Q: Can you tell us about your research interests?

My research interest is in inclusion and transition for individuals with disabilities. I am currently working on my predissertation regarding college students’ contact with individuals with disabilities and attitudes around inclusion. I just finished data collection and I am looking forward to running the data. After taking two career courses with Dr. Dispenza, I have developed a strong interest in career and transition for students and young adults with disabilities as well. I hope to continue research related to career and transition in the future.

Q: How do you relate to your research?

My research is near and dear to my heart, as I work with the IDEAL program at Georgia State and want our students to have the best and most inclusive experience at the university. The college experience is a huge learning and development experience in all students’ lives and I believe everyone should have the opportunity to live it out.

Q: What do you see yourself doing when you graduate?

I hope to have my hands in many projects when I graduate. Part of what I love about the doctoral program and my experience in counselor education and practice is that I can be involved in many aspects of counseling. I get the opportunity to teach, work clinically, serve as a supervisor and be part of the IDEAL program. I hope that whatever my next step, I am able to continue my involvement in a similar way.

Q: For fun: You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?

I would be a swirl of orange, yellow and a salmon color. Those are my favorite colors – one is soothing, one is fiery with a bit of sass and one is bright and happy.

Here are photos of Mackenzie Suttles with her Ph.D. cohort, at an IDEAL function, and time off spent traveling to Ireland with her family.
PhD CEP cohort

IDEAL function

Mackenzie Suttles in Ireland

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