Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions

Name of Innovative Program: 
Summer Academy for High School Students Exploring Careers in Behavioral Health Care
Sponsoring Organization
Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions
Name of Innovative Program Lead: 
Dr. Ronald Comer
E-mail Address of Innovative Program Lead:
Project Description: 
Ten years after the New Freedom Commission Report, meeting the needs of persons with mental illness--many of whom go untreated because of lack of services and prepared professionals--remains a leading health care challenge. Expanding and aligning the nation’s behavioral health care service systems with values, principles and practices associated with recovery-and resilience-oriented treatment models is urgently important. Essential to these tasks is transforming how our future behavioral health care workforce is being prepared. Dr. Ronald Comer, Chair of the Undergraduate Program in Behavioral Health Counseling, CNHP, has designed two successful programs to educate and grow the numbers of future mental health professionals.  His innovative undergraduate degree program (described in an attached document) and the “Summer Academy for High School Students Exploring Careers in Behavioral Health Care” for which he is herein nominated, are fast becoming national models for growing a competent and compassionate mental health workforce.
Creativity and Innovation: 
The Summer Academy heightens the level of awareness of future caregivers and offers training in competencies that support transformation in behavioral health care services.   Dr. Comer led a team of faculty and mental health professionals to design a five-day full program including presentations, workshops, field trips, mini-classes, simulation experiences with patient actors and counseling skills lab work.  Each topic is accompanied by a demonstration activity that engages students in “learning by doing” in such areas as psychiatric rehabilitation, family therapy, creative arts therapies, and group therapies.  A twelve-step meeting is held on site, followed by lunch during which students interact with AA members.  Staff and consumers at Horizon House and the forensic drug and alcohol unit at Gaudenzia share their experiences in treatment and recovery.  Graduation ceremonies bring closure to the week with a clear message that mental health work is a great career choice.
 Summer Academy experiences are designed to spark interest in mental health as if students were already members of the health care team. Presenters actively engage students in “therapeutic” activities through group work and simulation instead of lecture and Q&A sessions.  Behavioral health care administrators from CareLink and other agencies share their projected workforce development needs.  Philadelphia’s DBHIDS administrator, Dr. Arthur Evans, participated and remarked: "I want you to know that I am very impressed with the work you are doing and want to lift it up as exactly the kind of training that our field needs. It is refreshing to know that we have a program in the city that understands the need of the public sector system and prepares people for that reality."  Dr. Comer has taken the lead in designing an innovative program that could fill a crucial gap in mental health services over the next decade.
 The Summer Academy began in 2010 with eight students, progressed to 11 in 2011, and to 31 in 2012 from the tri-state region, South Carolina, Texas and Florida.  For 2013, the Summer Academy will host three summer sessions, anticipating 45 students.  A $250.00 attendance fee covers costs and will enable the granting of three scholarships in 2013 for students with particular need. Further, in recognition of Dr. Comer’s innovative work, there will be five additional need-based Dean’s Scholarships available for students who meet the eligibility requirements.  Our community agency partners, including Philadelphia’s DBHIDS and their Peer Specialists program, eagerly support this program and look forward each summer to participating as workshop leaders and field trip hosts.   Drexel’s current BHC undergraduate students also participate as helpers in workshop activities, modeling experiential role-play, and befriending high-school participants.  The program has been cost effective and is sustainable.
 The programmatic elements of this unique Summer Academy are easily replicable.  They consist of applied learning modules directly related to principles and practices supporting system transformation efforts underway in Philadelphia and elsewhere.  The program curriculum is easily transferrable to other colleges/universities or to any health care agency wishing to use this approach.  Unfortunately, mental health agencies are hard pressed to offer such programs on their own because of care demands.  However, the partnership design of the Summer Academy enables agency staff to participate in a meaningful way. The Summer Academy enables the entire BHC faculty to work with agency personnel and consumers from the community.  Dr. Comer and the BHC faculty are available to consult in person or online and to mentor faculty from other schools and agency staff to establish Summer Academies in other urban and rural communities.
 The crucial outcome for the Summer Academy is enrollment by participants in programs leading to careers in Behavioral Health.  Follow up interviews with Academy participants have documented that approximately 75% of those attending the past four Academies have gone on to pursue behavioral health studies in college as psychology or behavioral health counseling majors.  It is too early to tell how many will eventually become employed as behavioral health care professionals but the program has a plan to track this outcome in the future.Dr. Comer and the BHC faculty also administer summative program evaluations to participants for the purpose of program improvement.  For example, the first Summer Academy evaluations led to a shortening of lectures and more experiential activities.  Other performance measures include exit surveys to rate each learning module, field trip, etc., and provide comments for the purpose of improvement.   These have been overwhelmingly positive.