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Counseling Psychology

Counseling Psychology Student Perspectives

Curious about what it is like to be a student in the Counseling Psychology Program?

Erin Budesheim

I completed my undergraduate education at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska where I graduated with my B.A. in Psychology in 2019. During my undergraduate career I participated in internships working with adolescents in juvenile detention centers and partial psychiatric hospitalization settings. In my prior research experience, I found my passion for mental health stigma in college students and promoting positive development.

I am in my third year at the University of Illinois in the Counseling Psychology Program working with Dr. Chris Napolitano. My research focuses on young adult wellbeing through the lens of social media use. I work in collaboration with Hopelab, a nonprofit based in San Francisco, to understand the how wellbeing interacts with social media use and inform technological developments to meet the concerns of young adults. Moreover, I am interested in understanding who is susceptible to the negative effects of social media use and how to inform positive and protective social media practices among young adults.

Outside of school, I enjoy exercising (e.g., weight lifting, yoga), art history, traveling, reading, and cooking new dishes!

Whitney Clarke

I completed my undergraduate education at the University of Maryland, College Park where I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, a Concentration in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and a Minor in Black Women's Studies. During my undergraduate career, I began to gain clinical experience as a peer counselor at the university’s crisis hotline and at the Homeless Children’s Playtime Project working with both diverse adults and children who have experienced different traumas. As a McNair Scholar, I explored coping strategies utilized by Black women dealing with discrimination through an individual study. This solidified my call to advocate for Black women and examine healing.

I am in my second year in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program working with Dr. Jarrett Lewis and Dr. Helen Neville. My research focuses on Black populations specifically Black women and girls’ mental health issues, our ability to heal and hope radically despite oppression, and how trauma and racial identity uniquely impact us. My work centers Black communities where participants are active in the research project, rewriting what academic research looks like. Throughout the year, you may hear that I have gone home to Jamaica for a little to get away from the cold weather! 

In my free time, I love to travel any and everywhere, weight-lift, binge shows, and try new restaurants. 

Image of Gabby Drong

Gabrielle (Gabby) Drong

I completed my undergraduate education at the University of Dallas, Texas, where I graduated with my B.A. in Psychology and English in 2018. During my time as an undergraduate, I conducted a phenomenological thesis on the experiences of women who lost their spouses, which then prompted my interest in bereavement and continuing my research career. I went on to obtain my Master of Science in Psychological Science at the University of Illinois under the guidance of my advisor, Dr. Chris Fraley, and my program director, Dr. Caroline Tancredy.

Currently, I am in my 2nd year in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program, and I work with Dr. Chris Napolitano. Broadly, my research focus is on bereavement and mental health outcomes. I am specifically interested in the different forms and ways that people experience loss, as well as the individual/cultural differences that are at play.

Outside of school, I love boxing, backpacking, hiking, and spending time with my friends. 

Picture of Chris Elmi

Chris Elmi

I am very fortunate to have had an unexpected yet exciting academic journey that has spanned across continents and multiple countries. After completing my bachelors, I left my home in Southern California to start a new life in Germany. While there, I completed my master’s in psychology at Jacobs University in Bremen where my research focused on the place in which you leave or are attached to impacts your sense of loneliness and quality of life. I was then afforded the opportunity to pursue my first Ph.D. in Psychology at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, which I successfully defended in July of 2023. My research focused on how people pursue their goals, manage their resources, and deal with unexpected setbacks. I hoped to become an academic but found myself longing to work in service of people again. I decided to pivot my career back to therapy and pursue my second PhD in Counseling. My current research hopes to explore how fitness might impact the therapeutic relationship, specifically how exercise could strengthen the therapeutic relationship and bolster psychological outcomes.

Outside of my academic pursuits, I am an avid cyclist and weightlifter, finding solace and challenge in the outdoors and the gym. My zest for discovery extends to my love for traveling, which fuels my fascination with diverse cultures and perspectives. I thoroughly enjoy indulging in new food and drinks, savoring the rich experiences they bring. And amidst it all, I am graced by my two kittens, adding an extra layer of warmth and joy to my life.


Curriculum Vitae

    Richmond Hayes

    Richmond Hayes

    I am a third-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Program, working under the guidance of Dr. Helen Neville. Broadly, I study strength-based approaches to restoring Black individuals, families, and communities who have been affected by the criminal justice system. More specifically, I am interested in using radical healing and radical hope to promote transformation and liberation.

    Prior to joining the Counseling Psychology Program, I completed my B.S. in Psychology with a minor in the Administration of Justice at Howard University and earned my M.A. in Forensic Psychology from The George Washington University. Upon graduation, I worked as a Pathways Intern at the U.S. Department of Justice in the Criminal Division.

    Outside of the Program and the Liberation lab, I enjoy traveling, collecting sneakers, and engaging in outdoor activities.

    Nic Heimpel

    Nic Heimpel

    My research interests lie at the intersection of vocational psychology and methods/statistics. I am interested in advancing operationalizations of Person-Environment Fit (P-E fit) in the vocational domain. Such operationalizations can serve as tests of theory in this area, but also have direct applied utility for career recommendations via assessment and algorithmic matching of people to occupations. Relatedly, I am interested in integrating information from different domains of individual differences (i.e., aptitude, vocational interests, and work values) in vocational P-E fit research and career guidance. I am currently involved in projects that seek to develop comprehensive assessments that can be directly linked with information in the Occupational Information Network (O*NET). 


    Giovanina “Giovi” Kelly

    I am a first-year Master’s student in Mental Health Counseling. Previously, I graduated with my B.S. in Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience from North Central College in Naperville, Illinois. At my time at North Central College, I conducted research within the Sleep Lab and the Time Well Spent Lab. Additionally, I worked with children on the autism spectrum as a registered behavior technician and gained experience working within a neuropsychology private practice.

    Currently as a master’s student, I am advised by Dr. Lisa Kinderman and am focusing on gaining more clinical skills this semester by interning at the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) here at the University of Illinois.

    Outside of school I like playing ultimate frisbee, rollerblading, and enjoying time with friends and family. 

    Curriculum Vitae

      Diana Lesmes

      Diana Lesmes

      I worked for almost 7 years as a professor for the industrial engineering department of the Universidad de los Andes, in Bogota, Colombia. Where I also did my B.Sc. and M.Sc. in Industrial Engineering with an emphasis in Statistics. 

      For the last 4 years, I taught a class for first-year industrial engineering students, in which I helped them to develop entrepreneurial projects, their soft skills, and career plan. This experience made me realize my love for teaching and encouraged me to do a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology. 

      I joined this program in fall 2019, and since then, my research interest focuses on career counseling. In specific, research that seeks to help people to find fulfillment and joy with what they study or do for a living. At present, I work under the guidance of Dr. James Rounds, doing research on major life goals and its relationship with interest and personality. 

      In my free time, I enjoy jogging, reading, and watching superheroes series on Netflix with my daughter. 

        Amir Maghsoodi

        Amir Maghsoodi

        I am in my 2nd year in the Counseling Psychology Ph.D. program. My research interests combine social psychology, developmental psychology, and personality psychology. Working with Dr. Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, I explore psychosocial factors that underlie and promote resilience of marginalized and oppressed members of society. I currently pursue this work by studying “sense of belonging” and racial/ethnic identity development, and am particularly interested in exploring these and related themes among Southwest-Asian immigrants in the US. I am passionate about using my training in Psychology in the service of social justice. As a 1.5-generation Iranian-American immigrant, myself, I am especially resolute on advocating for the rights of SWANA/MENA immigrants.

        My clinical interests revolve around working with students and young adults who are grappling with issues of identity, anxiety, and adjusting to major life transitions. Furthermore, I am interested in working with couples and groups, focusing on the relational processes that happen between two or more people. I enjoy providing individual therapy and observing group therapy as a practicum counselor at the Counseling Center.

        Before coming to the University of Illinois, I researched people’s life stories (aka narrative identity) and relationship narratives with Dr. Dan McAdams and Dr. Janina Bühler at Northwestern University. Prior to that, I was a Ph.D. candidate in Applied Physics.

        I enjoy going on walks with my partner, Chloe, and our dog. I love to play the guitar and piano while singing Western and Iranian pop songs. In March, you can expect me to arrive in class with Iranian pastries in celebration of Norooz, the Persian New Year.

          Hameed Makttoof

          I completed my undergraduate education at Seattle University in Seattle, Washington where I graduated with my B.A. in Psychology in 2020.  During my time as an undergraduate, I volunteered with Lutheran Community Service Refugee NW for 3 years working with immigrant middle and high school students who came from the Middle East, Africa and South America. Most of these students came from areas of poverty and war and had already gone through traumatic life events. I worked as a teacher/mentor to help with their transition to the US so they could be successful.

          I am currently a doctoral student in the counseling psychology program at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. Under the direction of Dr. Helen Neville, my research focuses on the mental health effects of millions of Iraqi civilians due to the United States lead invasion of Iraq in 2003. I am also interested in studying the resiliency of refugees and immigrants.  Due to my experience of growing up during war in Iraq, this influenced me to focus on people who have a similar background. 

          Outside of school I enjoy working out, running, boxing, playing soccer, cooking, and reading.


            Nimot M. Ogunfemi

            After completing my Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015, I worked in Chicago and its surrounding neighborhoods as a volunteer and employee of several community centered organizations. I returned to UIUC in the fall of 2017 to join the College of Education’s Counseling Psychology program. As an undergrad, I completed a distinction thesis examining the relationship between stereotypes and comradery amongst black college aged women.

            Early exposure to the fine arts cultivated my interest in psychological processes. My current research interests rest at intersection of race and mental health, specifically the effect of cultural stimuli, like religion and art, on racial identity, success and resilience. I aim to work towards the continuation of introducing cultural frameworks to psychological intervention and promoting self-efficacy and mental health awareness in communities of color. I am currently working under the guidance of Dr. Helen Neville, namely on the #PowerUp Project on civic engagement and participatory action in youth of color.

            In my spare time, I enjoy visiting museums, participating in and talking about creative processes, and reading.

              Katie RhoadesKatie Rhoades

              Before coming to the Counseling Psychology program in Fall 2018, I completed a B.A. in Psychology, a B.A. in Neuroscience, and a minor in Business Entrepreneurship at the University of Colorado at Boulder. During my undergraduate time, I was a peer educator at the university’s counseling center, a peer mentor for students on academic probation, and completed an honors thesis examining the relationship between dopamine polymorphisms and risky sexual behavior. After graduating, I worked as a medical assistant where I developed my love for health and working one-on-one with others.

              At the University of Illinois, I am interested in research and roles focused on promoting wellness and trauma recovery, especially for survivors of sexual trauma. My other passion areas include health psychology, community outreach and programming, and gender equality. It is important to me that my work focuses on empowerment, social justice, and overall wellness. My current graduate assistantships are at McKinley Health Center conducting sexual health/education outreach and the Counseling Center conducting eating disorder and body image outreach. This year, I will be teaching EPSY 220: Career Theory and Practice and have previously been a TA for EPSY 202: Exploring Cultural Diversity. I also serve as board member for the community-based rape crisis center Rape Advocacy, Counseling, and Education Services.

              In my free time, I love to listen to indie music (shout out to Polyvinyl Records in Champaign!), rock climb, practice yoga, run, and go to art museums.

              Salmān Safīr (he/him)

              I am first year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology program under the mentorship of Dr. Helen Neville. My interests focus on Critical Race Theory, enthno-racial identity development, South Asian American Identity, Shī’īsm, and gender & sexuality among US Muslims as they each relate to mental health. Prior to beginning my doctoral degree, I earned my MA in religious studies from the University of Chicago, where I also received a graduate certificate in Health Care Administration and Policy. I received my BA in Educational Studies and Psychology from Swarthmore College.  Between my undergraduate and graduate studies, I worked in the Intercultural Engagement Programme at Yale-NUS College in Singapore.

              Outside of academics, I enjoy rooting for Wisconsin professional sports teams, as well as browsing any bookstore I can find. I live with my cat Eeyore, who tolerates me.


              Evin Tari

              I completed my undergraduate education at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I graduated with my B.S. in Psychology with a clinical-community concentration in 2021. During my time as an undergraduate, I had many volunteer and internship experiences working in the Urbana-Champaign community. I have worked with children and adolescents in after-school programs as well as residential and psychiatric hospitalization settings. Currently, I am a first year Master’s student in the Mental Health Counseling Program. 

              I enjoy spending time in nature, learning new languages, and meditating. I am also obsessed with my Holland lop bunny, Kuki."

              Cherese Waight

              I am a second-year doctoral student in the Counseling Psychology Division. Before starting the Counseling Psychology program at the University of Illinois, I graduated from University of Illinois with a B.S. in psychology and African American Studies. As in undergraduate student I worked with the Policing in a Multiracial Society Project, a program with the Police Training Institute to study the Color-blind Racial Ideology of the police recruits through a pre and post survey. I am working under the direction of Dr. Helen Neville in her Liberation Lab. My research interest is broadly focused on understanding the psychological effects of racism in the Black community, which is inclusive to understanding racial ideology, well-being, radical healing, radical hope, intergenerational trauma & coping, mental health resources for underrepresented communities and community interventions. My current research is focused on understanding the experiences of Black police officers. I am passionate about social justice and advocacy in my training.

              I work as a Graduate Assistant and Mentor for the McNair Scholars program in the Office of Minority Student Affairs, provided support for students in underrepresented and low-income communities that want to pursue a PhD degree. I am also a Teaching Assistant for EPSY 202: Exploring Cultural Diversity, a course focusing looking at topics through a social justice lens.

              In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my daughter, family, binge watching shows, cooking, being outdoors and spending times with friends.

                Briana Williams

                I am a fourth-year student in the doctoral program for Counseling Psychology. I am proud graduate of a small historically black college, Claflin University, in South Carolina. Broadly speaking, my research interests include the social needs and experiences of racially and ethnically diverse people across the sexuality and gender spectrum. I work with Dr. Neville and the Liberation Lab. Ultimately, we work together to transform our ways of thinking about psychological research and praxis as we center ongoing analyses of oppressive ideology, cultural healing practices, social action and political contexts. 

                Throughout my studies, I have worked in many roles across campus. Currently, I work as a graduate assistant for the Sankofa Black Student Outreach Team at the University’s Counseling Center. I also work as a Teaching Assistant for EPSY 220: Career Theory and Practice. I am also a part time counselor at the office of Faculty and Staff Assistance. We offer counseling services to University employees and members of their household. As I have held many other positions on campus, altogether these opportunities have expanded my knowledge and skillset as an emerging professional. Such experiences have been an influential part of my academic journey.

                In my spare time, the little that I do have, I enjoy writing poetry, binge watching Netflix shows, browsing my twitter feed, and shopping. 

                  Jisoo Youn

                  I graduated from Seoul National University with a B.A. in Education and Child & Family Studies and an M.A. in Counseling. While there, I had an opportunity to join many research projects about children, teenagers, and their career development. This experience led me to find how much I love this topic, and motivated me to pursue my doctoral degree.

                  Currently, I am working with Dr. James Rounds and Dr. Chris Napolitano. My research questions include how relational factors like parent-child relationships can affect career development and cultural specifics of career development. I also recently found that I enjoy trying many statistical programs and learning new statistical skills.

                  Outside school, I have been interested in the K-pop industry and what makes the popular bands popular. I also enjoy shopping and reading detective novels.

                  Simoni Zarkada

                  I am a first year graduate student at the Counseling Psychology Program, working under the guidance of Professor Chris Napolitano and Professor James Rounds. I am originally from Athens, Greece. Before joining the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, I earned my BSc in Psychology with honors at the University of Athens, Greece and a minor in Communication at Deree, The American College of Greece. I also had the opportunity to study abroad for a semester at the University of Virginia with a full-scholarship.

                  My research interests generally include: positive youth development and career interests. I am currently a teaching assistant for the course EPSY 420 “Theories of Psychotherapy” and the course EPSY 220 “Career Theory and Practice”.

                  In my free time, I enjoy exercising, travelling and trying out new restaurants.

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