SF State students win fellowships to support minorities in need of counseling

Francesca Zulueta and Rubi Esmeralda Gutierrez are standing next to each other outside smiling.

Francesca Zulueta and Rubi Esmeralda Gutierrez have received fellowships from the NBCC, an immense honor in the field of counseling according to Assistant Professor of Counseling Tiffany O'Shaughnessy.

Graduate students Rubi Esmeralda Gutierrez and Francesca Zulueta stress need for culturally competent and bilingual counselors

Graduate counseling students Francesca Zulueta and Rubi Esmeralda Gutierrez have been awarded $11,000 and $8,000 fellowships from the National Board for Certified Counselors (NBCC). The awards will support their education and facilitate their service to underserved minority populations ages 16 to 25. 

Assistant Professor of Counseling Tiffany O'Shaughnessy is Gutierrez’s adviser and proud of her student’s accomplishment. “The NBCC fellowship is an immense honor in the field of counseling and it speaks not only to Rubi’s consistent commitment to helping others but also to her potential to be a leader in the field going forward,” she said.

Professor of Counseling Julie Chronister is Zulueta’s adviser and views this award as a symbol of Zulueta’s strong commitment to the counseling field, her clients, community and peers. “The award reflects her clear and sharp focus on improving the lives of those facing some of the most significant and intersecting barriers, including marginalization, discrimination homelessness, mental illness, disability, poverty and loss of social support,” she said.

“It’s great to receive support for what I am passionate about and be with like-minded people that understand my challenges,” Zulueta said. Of the award, Gutierrez said, “It’s an honor to be recognized and to be afforded the opportunity to deepen my knowledge in the field of counseling.”

Fellowships that support minorities are crucial, according to the awardees. “As minorities, we may hold multiple intersecting identities and layers of oppression that other people may not face. As a counselor, I feel a responsibility to utilize my privilege to empower, advocate, and help heal my community,” Gutierrez said.

Zulueta agrees. “It is important to encourage people of color to be a part of developing the field. There is a huge need for counselors to become proficient in multicultural counseling," she said. She encourages people of color and intersecting identities to enter the field. "Multicultural proficiency is needed. In academia, there is a lack of understanding of the nuances and proper interventions to serve minorities. It is all very Eurocentric.”

O'Shaughnessy concurs. “The need for culturally competent and particularly bilingual counselors cannot be overstated. Every year thousands of individuals from marginalized communities cannot access mental health resources due to language and cultural competency barriers,” she said.

Chronister also notes that the clients the students serve often have intersecting identities. “As a profession, we are ethically obligated to ensure that we train counselors that reflect the culturally diverse landscape,” Chronister said.

Gutierrez and Zulueta both have traineeships as part of their studies where they get to work with clients. Zulueta is excited to evolve as a counselor. “I’ve lived in San Francisco for 13 years and in the Philippines before that, and I’ve seen such poverty and despair. Initially my target was to serve the homeless population, but I am still trying to understand what demographic I want to serve,” she says.

Gutierrez wants to work with transitional age youth. “Personally, it was ‘make it or break it’ for me at that age,” she said. “I needed a support system to be successful. I want to be a source of support and be that ‘make it or break it person’ for somebody who needs it,” she said.

The NBCC Foundation is the nonprofit affiliate of the NBCC. The goal of the fellowship program is to reduce health disparities and improve behavioral health care outcomes for racially and ethnically diverse populations by increasing the available number of culturally competent behavioral health professionals.