Chesleigh Keene, a doctoral student in the Morgridge College of Education (MCE) Counseling Psychology program, is an exceptional student and an exemplar of inclusivity. She is an American Psychological Association (APA) Minority Fellow, is working on her dissertation, coauthoring a book chapter on best psychological practices for Native American girls and women, and working on her first first-authored article. In addition, she serves as the Research Chair for CO Psychological Association of Graduate Students (COPAGS).
Chesleigh combined professional and personal interests when she reached out to the Native American community in Denver through a nonprofit called Denver Indian Center. Through Denver Indian Center, she has volunteered her time to assist with community events and participated in sociopolitical events including attending the Sand Creek March in 2013 and raising awareness about the issues and controversy surrounding Standing Rock.
According to Keene, participating in these events puts her close to the current issues and allows her to see the impact of sociopolitical events on the Native community.
“This helps me to inform my practice for other groups that are similarly impacted, “she said. It also impacts my research as I consider what the most salient concerns in a community might be.”
Keene’s path to counseling psychology was largely influenced by her decision to take time off from education after her master’s graduation. During this time she worked in an inpatient psychiatric hospital and got to work with every type of psychology provider in one setting. It was there that she was encouraged and motivated to pursue a PhD. Her master’s was a research-based community counseling degree and initially Keene thought that she’d pursue a clinical PhD. Working in a neuroscience laboratory changed her mind and she realized she wanted the freedom of practice and research that counseling psychology allows. In in the field of counseling psychology, she could use her scientific background and her community training to inform her research practice.
After having decided what she wanted to study, Keene needed to find a program and an environment that suited her. Initially, she had not considered the University of Denver (DU). A friend she knew from Denver Health referred her to an open house that was hosted by University of Denver Morgridge College of Education. It was there that she was introduced to Anthea Johnson Rooen at DU’s Center for Multicultural Excellence, who assured her that she would receive the support and resources she needed to meet her educational goals. Rooen provided Keene with contacts and helped her build a larger network. Based on this experience, she felt that DU and MCE could provide her the opportunities she was seeking, not just as a doctoral student but as a Native American student.
“I think prospective students should really consider which programs are going to support their professional and personal growth,” she said. “Even as doc students, we have growing pains and it’s so helpful to have mentors and faculty who can share their own experiences of managing difficult caseloads or overwhelming deadlines and who can provide guidance.”
“In the end, you want to finish your doctoral education as a psychologist who still has all of that early enthusiasm, empathy, and drive still intact,” she continued “It doesn’t help anyone if you finish a program just a shadow of yourself, so consider how you will fare in the programs you’re considering.”