Trevecca doctoral student in counseling recipient of prestigious award

PaQuita Pullen’s path from the school desk to the therapist couch didn’t look exactly how she’d imagined.

After she earned her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Trevecca in 2014, Pullen began pursuing a doctorate in counselor education at another university. After that university suddenly closed in early 2019, Pullen found herself scrambling to figure out her next step. 

That led her straight back to Trevecca. She reached out to Trevecca’s counseling program leadership and began to work out her next steps—steps that would allow her to transfer most of the credits she’d already earned toward her doctorate to Trevecca and finish her program as a Trojan. 

“It has been hard. A lot of the time, it feels like building the plane and flying it at the same time, and there’s also been this grief process,” she said. “The professors at Trevecca have been helping with the adjustment while still acknowledging that it is hard, and that has been so helpful to have that support during this transition.”

Despite the change in plans, Pullen is doing well. So well, in fact, that she was recently recognized by the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC) as one of 20 recipients of the foundation’s 2020 Minority Fellowship Program. This specific award is aimed at funding the work of therapists who hope to make counseling accessible to racial and ethnic minorities and under-served populations. 

Along with the prestige and the opportunities for professional development comes quite the prize—a $20,000 stipend that can be used to fund research, higher education and conferences.  

Pullen also applied for the award last year but wasn’t chosen. But this year, when it felt like so many doors were closing in her life, Pullen says the recognition felt like a sign from God that she was being heard.

“It just feels like a big deal because it shows that getting up and continuing to do the work, to take the chance again after rejection—it was kind of a culmination that everything works out in its own time,” she said. “They get about 400 applications a year, and only 20 people are selected, so to get the award this year is a huge deal. To be able to have resources to dedicate time to do clinical work with minority populations is huge.”

Dr. Susan Lahey, professor and director of Trevecca’s Graduate Counseling program, said Pullen is uniquely equipped to provide support services to minority populations. 

“Part of what makes counseling work is that clients feel accepted and welcome, and that sends unconditional positive regard,” Lahey said. “When a counselor has specific training and interest in therapy with a particular population, what ends up happening is [the client is able to get counseling that is more appropriate to their unique experiences].” 

Lahey said this national honor is not only notable for Pullen as a counselor but also remarkable for Trevecca. 

“In the clinical counseling world, the NBCC is one of the main organizing agencies. PaQuita came through our master’s program, and since she started, she’s received a lot of recognition,” Lahey said. “We try to be extremely supportive of our students’ dreams and visions, and we provide a very strong foundation in the field by modeling involvement and engagement. We don’t just teach our students and put them out the door. We want to see them succeed, and we’re all so invested.”

Trevecca’s master’s in Clinical Mental Health counseling is built on creating opportunities for hands-on learning and real-time application in the mental health field, Lahey said. In addition to the more than 60 agencies and centers that serve as internship sites, students are given opportunities to study under highly-qualified and credentialed faculty who also serve as current practitioners in the field.

“PaQuita a go-getter, a mover and shaker. It’s one thing to be passionate—it’s another to have a voice that people listen to,” Lahey said. “That she was selected for this honor is no surprise at all. She’s incredibly deserving.”

Learn more about Trevecca’s graduate counseling program

By Bailey Basham, ’17
Media contact: Mandy Crow,, 615-248-1695