Counseling Lights the Future for Tarleton Commencement Speaker

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STEPHENVILLE — You could say Lauren Penner has a diverse background. It’s this variety of experiences that guided her back to Tarleton State University and a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

Before collecting her diploma Saturday, she will deliver the 4 p.m. commencement address for her graduate school peers.

As a Tarleton undergrad, Lauren earned a bachelor’s degree in business with a minor in psychology. She was active in Delta Mu Delta honor society for business and Psi Chi honor society for psychology.

She also performed in a few recitals as a piano student under Dr. Leslie Spotz. (“It was a wonderful experience to do something completely unrelated to my majors.”)

A native of Huckabay, Lauren graduated in 2017 and worked in a Stephenville law firm and at Child Protective Services while pursuing her bachelor’s degree.

“What really led me to counseling was that counseling has worked for me personally,” she said. “I think the detours and experiences in my life made this feel like a natural extension. I personally benefitted from therapy and believe everybody could.”

While weighing her choices for training, Lauren considered other schools, but the reputation of Tarleton’s counseling program impressed her.

“It was an easy choice,” she said. “I had a good experience as an undergrad, so it made sense to do my graduate program here as well.”

It helped that Tarleton’s curriculum is accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs.

“That’s a really important credential for counseling programs, so I decided to stay on. Tarleton’s program offered good opportunities to have small classes. A lot of courses require extensive discussion, and I think the small classes helped with that.”

Lauren is confident her training has prepared her for a career in clinical mental health counseling.

“Many of the professors at Tarleton do outside counseling as well as teaching, so they have real experience in the field. That’s been unique to get training from people who have such a wide variety of experience.”

Additional work experience came through volunteer opportunities both as an intern with the university’s Student Counseling Services and with Texans Reducing Food Insecurity and Depression, where counseling students offer awareness and meditation training for adults over 55.

Those encounters and her time with CPS have her leaning toward easing trauma survivors, especially those in marginalized populations. “I am mindful of the importance of advocating for accessibility of mental health care that is oriented toward social justice,” she said.

In preparation for her career, Lauren intends to acquire specialized certification.

“It’s a type of therapy called eye movement desensitization reprocessing, which is a research-based treatment program for people who have experienced trauma. That’s what I’m hoping to go into. It’s kind of my lane.”

In her speech Saturday, she plans to explain how a multitude of life experiences helped her arrive at this juncture.

“I’ll talk about my journey and how it relates to the experience of being in grad school during a really unique time,” she said. “I hope the speech relates to how we all made it onto the next stage of our lives and into our careers.

“I think it addresses where we’ve been, the struggles we’ve all had during the pandemic, and looking forward to the future.”

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