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Doctoral Counseling Graduate Informed by Pastoral Past

By Brendan O'Hallarn

As someone who studies positive racial interactions, Eric Brown believes few institutions are better suited to his research than Old Dominion University.

It also helps that the Department of Counseling & Human Services of Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education, where Brown completed his doctorate this semester, is one of the top-ranked programs in the country.

"I could not have asked for a better experience, from my cohort of students to the supportive faculty at Old Dominion," said Brown, 40.

Originally from Wichita Falls, Texas, Brown found the Old Dominion campus community an ideal fit to study an integrated learning community. And that goes beyond race. Before beginning his doctorate, Brown spent 11 years as a pastor in Florida, and has wrestled with how to incorporate faith-based counseling into his research and practice.

"I felt supported by faculty members and other students, who might not share my faith," Brown said.

Brown defended his dissertation, "Cross-racial trust factors: Exploring the experiences of blacks who have had white mentors they trust in the counseling profession," in April. The research project mirrored Brown's experience at Old Dominion - forming deep working partnerships with University counseling faculty, many of whom had completely different life experiences.

Ed Neukrug, a professor of counseling, is Jewish. But Brown said Neukrug was the one who encouraged him to bring pastoral sensibilities into his practical counseling work.

Tim Grothaus, associate professor and chair of the Department of Counseling & Human Services, was Brown's dissertation chair, and made a big impact on him.

"Dr. Grothaus is a person that I just think embodies social justice," he said. "He is my role model for how I want to relate to students. I want his voice in my head."

Grothaus said Brown is a highly respected member of ODU's Counseling and Human Services community.

"In addition to his prowess as an instructor, his seminal investigation into cross-racial trust in mentoring relationships is an impressive contribution to the counseling field. His care, conscientiousness and collaborative spirit have made him a cherished colleague," Grothaus said.

Brown said he didn't realize how much he appreciated his experience at Old Dominion until he began to interview for academic jobs at other institutions. "When I would meet with faculty and students at the other institutions, it was clear they didn't have this level of diversity and this culture of respect," Brown said.

Ultimately, he chose a position as assistant professor and program director of the master's in clinical mental health counseling program at Wheaton College, a Christian liberal arts school in Illinois.

He would love to work at an institution as diverse as ODU one day.

"I didn't know anything about Old Dominion before I applied here. But this is a very special university, and it makes a huge difference in this community," he said.

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