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Counseling program establishes alumni group dedicated to fostering diversity

MOSAIC is working to make the student body in the department more reflective of the diversity in the world.

Janel Shoun-Smith | 615.966.7078 | 

Marriage and Family Therapy professor with students

This year the Department of Psychology, Counseling and Family Science has established MOSAIC, an alumni group dedicated to fostering a community of inclusion in the department, exploring ways the department can further embrace racial and ethnic diversity and addressing challenges to boosting diversity.

Built on the foundation of a previous student-led initiative, department leaders felt that including alumni would bring a real-world practicality to the group.

DeAndrea Witherspoon-Nash

DeAndrea Witherspoon-Nash

“Including professionals in the community who are already working with clients and who want to give back provides us with stronger perspective on the counseling profession and helps us identify areas of growth for racial diversity,” said DeAndrea Witherspoon-Nash, assistant professor and faculty advisor of the new MOSAIC group. “We are looking at what is going well in the department as well as what our goals should be in regards to cultural diversity.”

MOSAIC’s co-presidents are Merna Elsols (’18), MFT, (maelsols [at] and Anna Carnegie, CMHC (annamcarnegie [at]

According to the mission document of MOSAIC: “This new and exciting organization aims to provide opportunities for students, faculty and staff to gain awareness of the unique contribution people of all backgrounds offer to the department, university, and community at large.”

“The goal is to have current students be able to see what it is like to be in the counseling field and to be a person of color,” she said.

During the fall semester, MOSAIC has held a town hall meeting, co-coordinated by Chi Sigma Iota, the international honor society for counseling students. In addition it is working to develop ideas for social mixers, approaches to mentoring current students and service opportunities, said Witherspoon-Nash.

“We had a great response from students who not only wanted to hear our ‘why’ behind the purpose of MOSAIC, but who also were vocal about the need to enhance cultural competence,” said Willie Voss II (’18), chief operations officer at TN Voices, an alumnus of the counseling master's program and an involved member of MOSAIC. “The students want to share their own experiences and thoughts on what they need to be supported in their personal and professional growth to be competent counselors.”

Sentiments expressed at the fall town hall included the confirmation that change is needed and beneficial for the students, cultural awareness needs to be embedded in multiple courses across multiple semesters and the importance of student voices being heard and acted upon, he said.

MOSAIC currently relates to two of the department’s programs, the mental health counseling and marriage and family therapy graduate programs, and reflects the faculty and staff’s interest in making sure the department has a personal connection with the students.

Kathi Johnson

Kathi Johnson

“In the mental health profession, it is imperative that we create an academic setting where students feel supported and open to collaboration. We need a program similar to the industry we are building, that provides a sense of connectedness,” said Witherspoon-Nash.

“The counseling programs are very intentional about ensuring that our student body is representative of the world and the community we serve,” said Kathi Johnson (’99), director of graduate enrollment and the department’s staff advisor for the group.

“Everything we do is through that lens. The world is a diverse place. When we talk diversity, we are talking about socioeconomic, gender, ethnicity. It is a very wide, complex world, and counselors are being trained to have a complex person sit in front of them,” she said.

If you would be interested in participating in MOSAIC, contact Kathi Johnson at kathi.johnson [at] (subject: MOSAIC%20Group) .