12:43 PM

Counseling and Disability Services Poised and Ready to Serve Students


During this pandemic, mental health and well-being are critical components of student success, and UST’s Counseling and Disability Services team are at the ready to help support students.

New employee Michelle Kurkiewicz ‘13, joins the Counseling and Disability Services team to serve as coordinator, along with Avanti Bande, LPC, CEDS, NCC, who will serve as a counselor.

The staff at UST Counseling and Disability Services continues to offer ongoing support to our students during these unusual times, when college student stress is on the rise due to the pandemic. 

A recent article in the U.S. News & World Report website cites research indicating the problem of chronic and unhealthy levels of stress is at its worst among college-age students. While most adults report experiencing elevated stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ages of 18 to 23 are experiencing the highest stress levels, according to August survey findings released in October by the American Psychological Association.

“Mental health and well-being are critical components of student success, and our students are needing more and more support in this area,” David Hao, associate vice president of Student Affairs and dean of Students, said. “The addition of Avanti and Michelle is extremely timely, and we are so grateful they have joined our UST community so that we can collectively support our wonderful students even more.”

Help is Just an Email or Phone Call Away

Services for personal counseling and accommodations for a disability are provided remotely via video-conferencing. Especially now, knowing that help is just an email or a phone call away can make a critical difference.

“During this time students are apt to feel increased loneliness, stress, and anxiety because their campus community, familiar routines, face-to-face classes, and extra-curricular activities have all been disrupted,” Dr. Rose Signorello, executive director of the Center, said. “Just finding a quiet spot with good internet to Zoom in for class can be challenging. Not only that, but there are many changes that have occurred within our families, work, and social networks.

“It is important for students to know that they are not alone in this experience. Our Center offers a safe and confidential space for students to reach out for help, be heard, and begin to cope and problem-solve together with a caring counselor,” she said.

Michelle Kurkiewicz '13Meet Michelle Kurkiewicz ‘13

Michelle Kurkiewicz is the first friendly person to greet students (currently remotely) and schedule appointments for those who request support at Counseling and Disability Services for either personal counseling or to request academic accommodations for a disability. She will play a critical role in keeping that office organized, supporting the professional mental health staff in carrying out their counseling responsibilities, assisting with the disability accommodation process, and planning for the department’s promotion of mental health and well-being initiatives on campus.

Executive Director of Counseling and Disability, Dr. Rose Signorello, said, “We are delighted to have Michelle join us at Counseling and Disability Services and are especially pleased to have one of our alums as our newest team member. In her first few days of returning to UST she has won us over with her friendly spirit, willingness to help others, and eagerness to take charge of new tasks. We’re happy to welcome home one of our own Celts!”

Kurkiewicz earned a B.A. in philosophy from UST and previously worked in the Texas Medical Center as an administrative assistant for University Eye Associates for about seven years. She is fluent in Spanish and is an experienced translator, and brings that asset to the Counseling and Disability office.

Avanti Bande, LPC, CEDS, NCCMeet Avanti Bande, LPC, CEDS, NCC

"We are so pleased to have Avanti Bande join our Counseling and Disability Services clinical team," Signorello said. "For over three years Avanti has been treating adolescents and young adults struggling with eating disorders and other co-occurring mental health issues at the Center for Discovery-Houston. In her short time at UST she has made a positive impact as she eagerly started serving our students with the compassion and kindness that seems to come so naturally to her. We are confident she will fill a special place to round out the services we offer students at our Center."

According to recent scholarly research, symptoms of eating disorders were prevalent and persistent among college students. So the addition of Counselor Avanti Bande, who is a certified eating disorders specialist, is valuable to the health of our students.

Bande has experience as a college counselor at two other Texas campuses. “I'm so grateful for the opportunity to work at a university that upholds the Catholic teachings, high standards, and the social justice beliefs that I value,” Bande said. “I'm passionate about holistically working with our students during such a pivotal moment in their lives as they navigate various mental health and academic issues.

“Additionally, as a certified eating disorders specialist, I enjoy helping others discover a peaceful relationship with food, their body, and movement in a way that honors all aspects of their mental health,” she said. “I am excited to join the Counseling and Disability Services team and support our students in succeeding!”

About the Counseling and Disability Office

The Counseling and Disability Services office has a full team of licensed mental health professionals to assist students who request help. Our counseling staff currently includes:

  • Rose Signorello, Ph.D., Executive Director and Licensed Psychologist
  • Debby Jones, M.Ed., LPC, Assistant Director and Licensed Professional Counselor
  • Jennifer Norten, Ph.D., Licensed Psychologist
  • Laura Castronovo, LMSW, Licensed Master of Social Work
  • Avanti Bande, M.S., LPC, CEDS, NCC, Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, and National Certified Counselor
  • Michelle Kurkiewicz, B.A., Coordinator

“As we add a new counselor another one leaves us,” Signorello said. “We bid a fond farewell to our respected colleague, Laura Castronovo, who easily won the hearts of the students she counseled, as well as the counseling team. We have been fortunate to have her at UST. She will be moving on to another exciting life chapter as a new mother in January. We extend many good wishes to Laura and her growing family. We will miss her!”

And last, but not least, Percy, our therapy dog, has earned his own set of credentials that are proudly displayed on his office wall. Follow him on https://www.facebook.com/USTPercy/ and watch for his postings on the UST app.