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Thick skin and soft heart earn OSU counseling program coordinator prestigious award

By Maia Farris
Dec. 11, 2017

“Elephants are what counselors should be – empathic and caring.”

That’s what Oregon State University College of Education counseling program coordinator Gene Eakin believes. And that’s the motto he lives by.

His belief stems partially from a story he heard about a veterinarian whose death was mourned by a group of elephants.

The veterinarian cared for the elephants, and when he passed away, the herd was reported to have stood in front of the veterinarian’s house bowing their heads.

Gene’s favorite animal is an elephant, to no surprise.

Channeling his “inner elephant traits”

A counselor known for his own empathy toward others, Gene was honored as the recipient of the 2017 Leona Tyler award.

Gene poses with his favorite animal, an elephant.

Established by the Oregon Counseling Association, the annual award recognizes individuals whose work has had statewide implications for counseling. He is the 8th person from Oregon State to receive the Leona Tyler award. (Past winners listed here.)

Gene works at both the state and national level to strengthen school counseling and connect people to current issues found in K-12 schools.

As an Oregon State alumnus (he and his wife, Twila, recently celebrated 50 years as alumni) and experienced counselor educator, Gene is passionate about his work in the OSU counseling program, where 31 of 35 students are employed full time during their third year in the counseling hybrid program.

“Elephants are what counselors should be – empathic and caring.”

The hybrid (in-person and online) format fulfills Oregon State’s land grant mission of providing individuals from all areas of Oregon access to becoming a counselor.

His counseling experience has spanned 42 years in Oregon, where he’s held roles at Lebanon High School, West Salem High School, Lewis and Clark College and Oregon State University.

Receiving the Leona Tyler award is unique and means a great deal to Gene, considering most previous award recipients have been clinical mental health counselors, and Gene is one of a few to be recognized for his work as a school counselor and educator.

A long road ahead, but large strides to get him there

He hopes this award will give him a platform to speak to the mental health needs of children and adolescents.

As elementary school counselors across the state report more and more students’ lives are being affected by family trauma related to the recession and the resulting family poverty, there is an increase in the number of elementary school students who need this support.

Moving forward, he says, counselors who advocate for these needs and have the empathic and caring traits of an elephant will be essential.

“There are a limited number of mental health counselors in most communities providing services to children and adolescents, and Oregon ranks 49th overall in provision of mental health services to our citizens,” he says.

“We need more school counselors and social workers doing the good work that they do in order for Oregon schools to increase attendance rates, graduation rates, post high school education matriculation rates, and improve the behavioral and mental health of our students.”

With Oregon’s student-counselor ratio of 510-1, Gene vows to continue to advocate for the school counseling profession and the work they do to meet youth’s career and college readiness, and academic and personal-social-emotional counseling needs.

And he hopes to show others the power of thinking and acting like an elephant.

Maia Farris is a student employee in the College of Education. 

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