17:42 PM

New Director of Counseling & Wellness and New Approach to Supporting Student Wellbeing

Universities across the nation are managing COVID stressors, high hopes for a near-normal campus experience this academic year and an increased need for mental health services. To help students stay motivated amid any uncertainty, University of St. Thomas Houston introduces its new Director of Counseling & Wellness Services, new team and a new approach to supporting student wellbeing.

Director, Ivan Navarro ’07, joins UST from his most recent post as lead counselor for Catholic Charities, giving hope and encouragement to immigrant minors from Central America.

“At Catholic Charities, I got to supervise college students who were doing their practicum,” Navarro said. “Their passion for the work impressed me, so I proactively looked for a position at UST. Because I worked with college students, now I want to work for them.”

Navarro brings relevant experience, enthusiasm and a lot of compassion to his job. The Colombian-born young man calls counseling his true calling. However, he found it in his own good time. That is to say that after majoring in communications, he tried working in television news and realized he wanted to work one-on-one helping people. So he explored the possibility of the priesthood, joining a religious community for eight years, including four studying in Rome where he learned Italian.

“Then, they sent me to a site in New Hampshire where the priests worked with abused and orphaned children,” Navarro explained. “There, I got to study mental health counseling and completed my master’s degree. When I was able to help some of the children through therapy, I knew in my heart that I could make a difference. God put me in the right place. I loved it and wanted to do it full-time.”

The other four members of Navarro’s team at UST are coordinator Michelle Kurkiewicz ‘13, counselors Avanti Bande and Thalia Puente, and counselor Debby Jones who handles disability services as well as Percy, the team’s popular therapy dog.

Counseling & Wellness Services is rolling out a new approach to how UST supports campus wellness and mental health. The team is using short-term counseling to help even more students.

Navarro said, “Instead of seeing students for an unlimited number of sessions and putting others on a waiting list, we will see a student for 3 to 5 sessions per semester, using a solution-focused method — a strategic, personalized treatment plan.”

The team also is prepared to support students who need more sessions by helping them to find affordable, quality services in the Houston area.

Both Navarro and Puente are fluent speakers of Spanish, a high-value skill at a designated Hispanic Serving Institution such as UST.

Associate VP for Student Affairs & Dean of Students David Q. Hao, MA, J.D., said, “We are so excited to introduce our new Counseling & Wellness Services team, as we simultaneously take a new strategic approach toward how we support the mental health and wellness of our campus.”