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April 2013

Graduate psychology alums serve Avila’s mission while paying off student loans

It’s evident that Shannon Hiser and Kelsey Hanner took the faith-based mission of Avila University to heart.

The two women, both alumnae from Avila’s graduate psychology program, live that mission – that of serving the dear neighbor without distinction, as proffered by the founding Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet – in their daily jobs.

Hiser, who received her master’s in psychology from Avila in 2004, is the clinic director of Cass County (Mo.) Psychological Services. Hanner, who received her master’s in counseling psychology last December, works with Hiser, also for Cass County, which also happens to be where she and Hiser grew up (Hiser in Harrisonville, Hanner in nearby Raymore). Their duties focus on providing psychological services to rural populations that are underserved. Most are on Medicaid or Medicare. They also work very closely with Children’s Division, Cass County Drug Court, and Probation and Parole to identify and address the needs of their referrals.

“Even though I grew up in Harrisonville, I was clueless to the lack of resources in (Cass) county,” Hiser said. “I worked at Gillis for two years after graduation and was used to working in Jackson County. Here, there was a shortage of services. I am able to link to or provide those services because of the unique experiences I had at Avila and Gillis.

“Working with the rural community really sparked a passion in me to do whatever I can professionally to meet the behavioral health needs in this area. At Cass County we aim to provide comprehensive services based on a community mental health model.”

The work environment also challenges Hiser and Hanner to call upon all the skills and knowledge they gained through the graduate program at Avila. While psychological resources in urban and more heavily populated areas allow for specialized providers for specific areas, in rural settings such as Cass County, Hiser and Hanner are challenged to offer a variety of services for a wide array of mental health issues and cases.

“It is challenging,” Hanner said. “There’s a lot of research, a lot of preparation involved. There’s a lot of flying by the seat of your pants. It helps you grow as a person.”

Hanner said the mission she carries with her each day on the job is completely consistent with that which she saw in action every day she attended Avila.

“I think it goes hand-in-hand,” she said. “In what I do today, there’s no prejudice, no discrimination, no judgment. Everything is given flexibility and understanding. I learned a lot of that at Avila.”

Hiser added that the skills and philosophy she learned at Avila transfer directly to what she does today in her daily work life.

“There’s a definite mission at Avila that is handed down through the program by professors to students,” said Hiser, who especially mentioned psychology professor Steve Sirridge, Ph.D., as being integral to her professional development. “That of going out into the community and reaching out to those in need.

“Avila nurtures and supports its students so that they can then go out and nurture and support.”

There’s an additional benefit Hiser is receiving from her work, and it’s one Hanner said she’ll pursue sometime in the near future. Hiser is participating in the National Health Service Corps Loan Repayment Program and, through her work in underserved rural areas, has repaid $60,000 of her $75,000 loan and is in the midst of a continuation program which will pay off the rest. She said she also received a $2,500 grant for being a mentor to Hanner.

“It’s basically 20-30 hours a week of direct service,” Hiser said. “It’s meant to bring quality health services to underserved populations. It’s a great program.”

Much like Avila’s graduate psychology program, Hanner said.

“They have a great staff; a lot are counselors themselves so they teach you practical applications they’ve used in their practices,” she said. “They teach you what you need to know.” AU

Media Contact: Bob Luder, 816.501.2434