Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, Volume 50, Number 2, 2019

Strengths-Based UndergraduateRehabilitation Education Model: PreparingMinority Leaders for Diverse Workforce

Carmela Y. Drake, PhD, LPC, CAADP, ACGC-IIID. Henry Stapleton, EdD, LPC-S, CRC, NCC

Alabama State University

Naoko Yura Yasui, PhD, CRCUniversity of Southern Maine

This conceptual manuscript introduces a strengths-based undergraduate rehabilitation educa-tion model. The model was designed with the unique strengths of minority students in mind.It conceptualizes how students’ strengths are cultivated by faculty-supported career explorationand development and service learning opportunities. The three pillars, in combination, pre-pare students for their fieldwork experiences. The three pillars of the model—core curriculum,leadership training, and concentrations—are supported by a strengths-based platform. Theimplementation of the model has the potential to improve student and program outcomes bymore adeptly preparing minority students to be leaders in a diverse rehabilitation workforce.

Keywords: undergraduate rehabilitation education; pedagogy; minority; leaders; curriculummodel

S ince 2017, the state of URE programs has been the focus of discussions due to the mergerof the Commission on Rehabilitation Education (CORE) and the Council for Accred-itation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP). Recently, it hasbeen announced that the Commission on Accreditation of Allied Health Educational Pro-grams (CAAHEP) has recognized URE programs as an allied profession and approved the for-mation of Committee of Rehabilitation Accreditation (CoRA) to assist in the development ofaccreditation standards (National Council on Rehabilitation Education, 2018). In the interimas we await new accreditation standards, the question being posed by many URE programs is:“Where do we go from here?” We attempt to address our shared concern through this concep-tual manuscript describing a URE model we created based on our experience in teaching at ahistorically black college/university (HBCU).

From the vantage point of serving on the faculty of one of the first accredited URE programsat an HBCU, the authors now have the freedom to create a program that better suits ourstudents’ strengths. We envision a program that more fully prepares minority students to servePdf_Folio:129

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as leaders in a diversifying and evolving rehabilitation services profession in which minorityprofessionals are currently underrepresented.

Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA, 2015) noted a workforce forecastof significant shortages of mental health and substance use treatment professionals by 2025.Additionally, the demographics of the current workforce in mental health and substance usetreatment professionals are mostly older, White women. Ryan, Murphy, and Krom (2012)found that over 60% of clinical directors in this profession are over the age of 50, White,and women. They found that the direct care staff fit the same description. The shortages andlack of diversity in the rehabilitation workforce have also been observed in occupational ther-apy. There are currently shortages in many states for occupational therapists and forecastedto increase through 2030 (Lin, Zhang, & Dixon, 2015). Barfield, Cobler, Lam, Zhang, andChitiyo (2012) confirmed this barrier to recruit minority students and suggest promotingprogram-based experiential opportunities to attract a more diverse group of students.

We propose a model for URE that is firmly grounded in student strengths and reflectiveof career development and exploration experiences. The model will prepare a new generationof competent rehabilitation services professionals. We envision three knowledge-based pillars(rehabilitation core curriculum, leadership training, and concentrations) infused with servicelearning opportunities and culminating with fieldwork experiences that permit full applicationand integration of all aspects of the learning model.

The strength-based model (SBM) for URE, depicted in Figure 1, has features similar to acircular Roman colonnade. The pillars (concentrations, leadership training, and rehabilitationcore curriculum) are embedded firmly in a foundation comprised of student innate strengthsand layered with meaningful, faculty-supported career exploration and development oppor-tunities. The three pillars are fortified by incessant service learning activities. The pillars serve

FIGURE 1. Strength-based model for undergraduate rehabilitation education.Pdf_Folio:130

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as the basis for all fieldwork endeavors. The pinnacle of the colonnade represents the compe-tent minority rehabilitation professional who is now equipped to become a leader in a diverseworkforce.


Our model focuses on creating an URE program that utilizes minority students’ strengths asthe foundation of our curriculum to develop competent rehabilitation professionals. In ourURE program, we have witnessed that a great majority of the students are the first in theirfamilies to attend college to pursue professional careers. Most meet the typical descriptionof first-generation college students: being minority and of low socioeconomic status (Orbe,2004), being less academically prepared, scoring low on admission tests, and already parentsand spouses (Garrison & Gardner, 2012). At the same time, these students are resourceful,hopeful, and persistent in fulfilling their goals to earn a college degree. Garrison and Gard-ner (2012) support the development of a URE model program that would allow students tocultivate their strengths.

It was our opportunity to create a URE model that develops the strengths in our studentsand prepares them to be competent rehabilitation professionals. The importance of an aca-demic program that helps students discover their strengths and develop and apply the knowl-edge base training has been discussed (Anderson, 2004). For our strengths-based URE model,we have adopted the following two principles (Lopez & Louis, 2009):

1. Personalize the learning experience by practicing individualization whereby we think andact upon strengths of each student.

2. Actively seek out novel experiences; focus practice of their strengths through strategic courseselection, use of campus resources, and mentoring relationships.

Our experience and previous research (Garrison & Gardner, 2012) concur that students atHBCUs are proactive, goal-oriented, optimistic, reflexive, persistent, resilient, and hopeful.Our strengths-based URE model allows students to further develop these attributes throughcareer exploration and development, knowledge base building, and fieldwork experiences.

We aim to actively create opportunities in classroom and advising sessions to discuss stu-dents’ personal experiences as they relate to disability and rehabilitation. While students’ per-spectives may be limited to their own life experiences, we, with additional professional andpersonal experiences, are prepared to situate their concrete experiences in the larger societal,political, economic, and historical contexts that involve minority populations. Guthrie andMcCracken (2010) encourage educators to utilize student’s experiences and allow students toapply expectations to their current learning opportunities and resources. Our intention is toengage the students along with their peers in conversations about the changes that they wouldenvision for the future and the roles that they may opt to play in the facilitation of changesspecifically in the field of disability and rehabilitation. Essentially, we are inviting the studentson new journeys of personal development infused with an exploration of new information(Guthrie & McCracken, 2010). These discussions (based firmly on students’ life experiencesand faculty’s preparation for informed facilitation) are intended to assist students in discover-ing some meaning in their experiences that can guide them through their career development,thereby turning their experiences into their strengths.


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We argue that career exploration and development activities are central to the evolution ofthe competent rehabilitation professional. Innate and emerging strengths of minority studentsare solidified through career exploration and development activities. We have observed howlimited exposure to certain circumstances that are typically associated with the White mid-dle class can suppress career exploration and development outcomes in our students. Barfieldet al., (2012) noted four barriers for minority students enrolling in rehabilitation educationprograms and two of those barriers are social influence (diversity of the program) and experi-ential opportunity (job shadowing). Hence, it is important that efforts are extended to involveminority students in campus and community events that expose them to career-enhancing lifeexperiences.

Students should be strongly encouraged to routinely visit the campus career center for careerexploration. Moreover, the URE program (working collaboratively with the career center andother campus organizations) can host professional development workshops and career fairs.Rush (2012) posited that career interventions for African American college students shouldinclude the provision of role models who can speak about careers and discuss environmentalbarriers negatively impacting career paths. Barfield et al., (2012) noted that the lack of per-ceived ability to physically perform a service has also been observed as a barrier for minoritystudents’ decision to enroll in rehabilitation programs. Those providing career guidance shouldproactively address fears students may have in terms of being successful, such as not believingthey have the ability to physically perform rehabilitation services. Rush (2012) emphasized theimportance of networking for career success as well as connecting students with community-based efforts, such as internships, job shadowing, and service learning.

Students must understand that career exploration and development is an active, evolvingprocess; thus, program advisers must periodically gauge where students are in the process andprovide needed guidance. Mentoring is vital to the career exploration and development process.Redmond (1990) identified three benefits of mentoring from students’ perspectives: feelingrespected as individuals, having a role model, and receiving empathy, concern, and feeling.Redmond (1990) also highlighted the importance of personal connections in creating andmaintaining comfort and cultural validation. Castellanos, Gloria, Besson, and Harvey (2016)confirmed the important role of mentoring for student development. According to Bettingerand Baker (2011), students who received coaching displayed long-term persistence and highergraduation rates.

Faculty mentoring is extremely important when assisting students with making initial andalternative career choices (Lee, 1999). Mentors can assist students with reconstructing andreframing lived experiences to better clarify career goals and preferences (Brott, 2001). Throughthe career exploration and development lens, mentees are encouraged to filter out aspects of thecore curriculum, leadership training, and service learning, and formulate good choices aboutconcentrations and fieldwork. Thus, students engage in more effective career decision-makingthrough mentoring.


Knowledge base development will be supported by three pillars: rehabilitation core curriculum,leadership training, and concentrations.Pdf_Folio:132

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Rehabilitation Core Curriculum

In the strengths-based URE model, the core curriculum will preserve those aspects of the fieldof rehabilitation that distinguish it from other human services fields. Hence, the core cur-riculum may comprise the history of rehabilitation services (to include policy, legislation, andadvocacy), medical and psychosocial aspects, diversity and disability, case management, assis-tive technology, assessment, theories in counseling, and helping skills. Each of the aforemen-tioned core courses will incorporate components of vocational development. Furthermore, ser-vice learning is applied as a pedagogical approach throughout the program curriculum as laterdiscussed.

Leadership Training

As described earlier, many minority students present with varied strengths as a result of theirlife experiences. Nonetheless, it is our observation that all too often, minority students donot validate their unique vantage point as a foundation for their professional development inrehabilitation services fields.

Thus, the second pillar of the model is leadership training. Leadership training that isgrounded in cognitive, affective, and behavioral foundations will help minority students val-idate their own sense of injustice and channel their ambition to initiating action towardsocial justice through their professional contributions. Minority students will be encour-aged to develop soft skills capacities relating to social justice, advocacy, policy and ethics,self-empowerment and determination, cultural competency, community collaboration, anddecision-making. As discussed earlier in the manuscript, the aforementioned capacities areprominent in the development of effective leadership skills in URE students.

Soft skills are fundamental to professional competence, but are rarely included in the cur-riculum of URE programs. Soft skills comprise traits, abilities which are essential for personal,professional, and social success, and include competencies such as decision-making, communi-cation, negotiation, business etiquette, problem-solving, and conflict management. Soft skillsare enduring and transferable from one work setting to another (Rao, 2010). Finch, Hamil-ton, and Baldwin (2013) concluded that employers place the highest importance on soft skills.Robles (2012) described soft skills as determinants of one’s strengths as a leader, facilitator,mediator, and negotiator. Encouraging the formation of soft skills, most prominently in thepillar of leadership training, will empower minority students as they prepare for a diverse reha-bilitation services workforce.

To this end, a systematic approach that integrates classroom-based and experiential learningis deployed. Building on the social change model of leadership (Higher Education ResearchInstitute, 1996), which was developed for college students, through a variety of learning activ-ities to be conducted individually (e.g., reflection paper writing), in groups and classes (e.g.,discussion and presentation), and in the community (e.g., service for nonprofit agencies), stu-dents are to develop awareness and appreciation of core values in rehabilitation services, suchas respecting human rights and dignity, appreciating the diversity of human experience, andemphasizing client strengths as opposed to deficits (Commission on Rehabilitation CounselorCertification, 2017), and acquire skills that are required to facilitate these values.

Through such training in leadership skills and reinforcement of awareness as their leadershippotential in rehabilitation services, we expect that minority students will be able to tap intotheir firsthand experience of disparity and injustice as their resource and be equipped to fulfilltheir everyday professional responsibilities in rehabilitation as means to social justice.Pdf_Folio:133

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URE students are increasingly interested in attaining postbaccalaureate credentials. Revisingthe curriculum to include courses that address certification requirements will enhance students’skill sets and marketability in the diverse workplace. Due to the varied career paths in rehabili-tation, the lack of minority representation in the rehabilitation workforce, and the multiplicityof roles, functions, settings, and projected job growth, we envision the following program con-centrations in the strength-based URE model: (a) addiction studies; (b) preallied health; and(c) intellectual/developmental disabilities.

In curricula for these concentrations, we anticipate working with other departments withinthe institution to ensure that we are providing minority students with diverse and comprehen-sive programs of study. Components of learning in these concentrations would be providedby multiple departments, such as health education, criminal justice, psychology, science, andmathematics in the form of elective courses. Collaborating with these departments will ensurethat our students are receiving the basic prerequisites for the development of competencies inthe given concentration and avoid course duplications.

Addiction Studies. The concentration-specific courses for addiction studies will follow thefour transdisciplinary foundations as outlined in the Technical Assistance Publication (TAP)Series 21: (a) understanding addiction, (b) treatment knowledge, (c) application to practice,and (d) professional readiness (Center for Substance Abuse Treatment, 2006). Courses that willbe offered for this concentration within the URE program will be introduction to addictions,pharmacology in addictions, and treatment strategies in addictions. The URE will collaboratewith the health education and psychology departments to include curriculum in alcohol anddrug studies and abnormal psychology. Additionally, students in the program that concentrateon addictions will also take a course on drug and drug abuse through a collaboration with thecriminal justice department.

Preallied Health. Courses that will support the preallied health concentration will bedesigned to meet the prerequisites to admission to graduate programs in allied health disci-plines; hence, collaborating with the sciences and mathematics departments to ensure the stu-dents are satisfying prerequisite courses to apply for graduate school in occupational and phys-ical therapy. Specifically, the URE program will collaborate with the biology, chemistry, andphysic departments to include curriculum in human anatomy and physiology, physics, andchemistry. The URE program will also collaborate with mathematics to provide curriculum inprecalculus.

Intellectual/Developmental Disabilities. This final concentration was chosen in responseto workforce trends reported by our recent URE graduates. Moreover, a report from the Centersfor Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicated an increase in children being diagnosedwith developmental disabilities between the years of 2014 and 2016 (Zablotsky, Black, &Blumberg, 2017). We anticipate a significant future demand for professionals to serve thispopulation. Courses that will focus on intellectual/developmental disabilities will be offeredin partnership with the psychology department. The courses specified in the curriculum forthis concentration will be abnormal psychology, introduction to developmental disabilities,developmental psychology, and applied behavioral analysis.


As we have mentioned, all three pillars of knowledge base building apply the pedagogicalapproach of service learning. According to Furco (1996), service learning can be conceptual-ized as a form of experiential education with an intention to equally benefit the students who


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provide service for the community, and the community recipients of the service, as well asto equally focus on the service and the learning. Consistent with Furco’s description, Miller(2012) defined service learning as an instructional method that offers organized service experi-ence where students are able to identify the needs of the community and reflect on their expe-rience to better understand the course content, while building a sense of civic responsibility.

In rehabilitation education, in particular, Ortega and Garner (2014) noted that service-learning opportunities would serve as experiential laboratories, allowing course material to beapplied to real-life scenarios. We envision that service learning will provide minority studentswith hands-on experience of the services that are provided, allow them to reflect and build anunderstanding of the consumer’s perspective on receiving the service, and receive small, yetconcentrated, skills training before participating in the fieldwork experience, simultaneouslyserving their communities. Additionally, service learning can be applied to address a number ofother goals, such as professional networking, advocacy and community involvement, graduateschool acceptance, and employment (Hansmann, Saladin, & Quintero, 2011).


Fieldwork is the capstone that clarifies a student’s career path and solidifies professional com-petencies and skills. Marlett et al. (2000) described rehabilitation services as a broad-basedand multidisciplinary profession and emphasized how students could be prepared as leadersand change agents via fieldwork opportunities. In our strength-based URE program model,the minority student will have completed a number of service-learning courses throughout theknowledge base building. The student is expected to have a stronger sense of empowerment tobe successful in participating in the fieldwork experience. In our model, the student will nowapply all the skills attained during the service learning experiences. This should the student toapply course content to practice in a more competent and empathic manner.

Given firsthand experiences of disparities and social injustices, minority students are par-ticularly well suited for the roles of leader and change agent. The authors agree with Marlettet al. (2000) that fieldwork should serve as a critical phase in leadership training.


We proposed a SBM for URE. Creating a strength-based URE model for students at histori-cally Black colleges/universities entailed a thorough assessment of program needs from the per-spective of minority students. A number of facets distinguish the strength-based URE model.The program is basic and descriptive enough to be articulated and internalized by faculty, pro-gram staff, and students. This is a student-centered model with the student’s strengths servingas its foundation and utilizing their lived experiences as beacons of encouragement as well asguides to how the facilitation of service learning will be infused throughout every programcourse.

The model emphasizes the empowerment of minority students via mentorship and careerdevelopment. Through concerted efforts, we envision a program that more fully preparesminority students to serve as leaders in the ever diversifying and evolving profession of reha-bilitation services. The incorporation of leadership training will strengthen advocacy capacityin the students as it relates to rehabilitation policy and service provision. Students’ strengthsserve as a catalyst for career development and exploration and the eventual development ofprofessional competencies.


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Disclosure. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflectthe official policy or position of their affiliated institutions.

Correspondence regarding this article should be directed to Carmela Y. Drake, PhD, LPC, CAADP,ACGC-III, Department of Rehabilitation Studies, Alabama State University, Montgomery, AL 36104.E-mail:


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