By Andrew Myers
Ileana Gonzalez, PhD, an assistant professor in the Counseling and Human Development program at the School of Education, has been named School Counselor Educator of the Year for 2020 by the Maryland School Counselor Association (MSCA).
Educators are nominated anonymously by a student or colleague whom the awardee has inspired to be a leader, advocate, or collaborator as a professional, and this marks the second time Gonzalez has received this honor.
Gonzalez joined the School of Education faculty in 2012 after an eight-year tenure as an urban high school counselor in South Florida working with a mostly Caribbean-immigrant population. She now coordinates the School Counseling Fellows Program. As a researcher, Gonzalez focuses on social justice issues and the ways that urban school counselors help address those concerns. She is an advocate for equity and access to a quality education for all students.
“School counselors are the key to those outcomes,” Gonzalez says. “If I had my way, there would be a hundred school counselors in every school.”
Instead, she says, even the very best-staffed schools have roughly one counselor for every 250 students—a ratio that increases dramatically in urban schools where, she says, school counseling is needed most.
“In Baltimore, some schools don’t have a single counselor,” Gonzalez says of the problem. Her approach is to address things at a systemic level, working to implement broad, schoolwide-level reforms that remove barriers that hold students—and counselors—back. Part of that mission is to recruit and train better, more engaged counselors, an important aspect of Gonzalez’s teaching that the MSCA acknowledged with its counselor educator award.
According to MSCA, the award recognizes the top Maryland graduate-level school counseling instructor who shepherds emerging professionals who are able to plan and implement exceptional and comprehensive school counseling programs, leading to higher achievement for all students.
Of the award, Gonzalez is humble and quick to redirect attention to others. Much of the credit, she says, belongs to her colleagues in the counseling program and on her team. She finds particular reward in teaching counselors and seeing the tremendous impact that they have on the lives of others, especially underprivileged young people.
Gonzalez earned her doctorate in counselor education at the University of Maryland, College Park. Her research interests include examining the commitment of urban school counselors to social justice issues.
As a person of color and from an urban school background, she understands the acute difficulties such kids face, Gonzalez says. It was her counselors who helped her see the value in education and really helped her along the way. Being recognized for educating the next generation of counselors holds a special meaning for Gonzalez.
“It’s always a joy to be recognized for what you love to do,” she says. “I’m beyond blessed to be in this field I love. Being acknowledged in this way adds meaning to what I do.”
The award and several others will be presented at the MSCA’s sixth annual awards gala on February 7, 2020, in Annapolis.