Doug Johnson, director of the Counseling Center, supports UMaine for the same reason he chose his career.
“It’s all about seeing a need and trying to help,” says Doug, whose facility is visited each year by hundreds of students seeking mental health services including psychological evaluation, psychotherapy, crisis intervention, and career and vocational testing. The Counseling Center also provides information about suicide prevention and mental health issues and sponsors a peer education group in which students teach others about healthy relationships.
Doug, who contributes to the Jerry Ellis Scholarship Fund, feels good about being able to honor a former colleague whom he admired and help UMaine provide opportunities for disadvantaged students at the same time.
The Jerry Ellis Scholarship Fund was established at the University of Maine Foundation to honor Gerald Ellis, director of the University of Maine College Success Program. He retired in 2007 after 33 years of dedicated service to the Onward Program, a college readiness program for non-traditional students who are the first in their families to attend college, are low-income, or are disabled. Armed with Jerry Ellis’ sage advice, students were able to receive support services, academic advising and, oftentimes, financial aid while earning degrees in disciplines like nursing, education, social work, liberal arts, engineering and business.
Doug, who works with many of these same students, says he and Jerry often would confer about how to ensure that they received the best help.
“His career and heart were dedicated to helping folks who were disadvantaged,” says Doug, describing his former colleague as “compassionate” and “genuine.”
“When you interacted with Jerry, you got his full attention. He was a very good listener and he had a great deal of insight and self-awareness.”
The importance of philanthropy was ingrained in Doug as a child. “It’s a huge motivation that’s been passed down to me by my parents and grandparents. My mother always wanted to help the underdog. She was always advocating for the common working person as well as for people who were homeless or needy. I don’t think it’s an accident that all the kids in our family are in helping professions.”
Doug began his career at UMaine in 1989 as an intern at the very center he now oversees.
“I came from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan which is similar to Maine both geographically and in terms of the population and the economy. So, Maine feels like home to me. And UMaine epitomizes what a University ought to do for a state – educate its young people and prepare them for leadership.”
Students today face a plethora of stressful issues including a foundering economy, an unpopular war, and climate change, according to Doug. Combine these concerns with the anxiety many students feel about being on their own for the first time, choosing a career, developing healthy relationships, and managing a rigorous academic schedule, and it’s easy to see why some become overwhelmed.
“Navigating life’s transitions and challenges is extremely stressful,” Doug says. “Some students come from more supportive backgrounds than others and are better equipped for handling those transitions. We also have students who have a diagnosable mental illness as an additional thing to manage.”
The Counseling Center can help in a variety of ways. “We tailor our services to students’ needs. We provide a place where a student can find a confidential, supportive listener or expert mental health treatment. We might see a student regularly, or we might simply be a safe and secure place where they can touch base now and then.”
Describing his colleagues as hardworking, caring and compassionate, Doug says they all take great delight in helping students. “I work with a wonderful group of people who are motivated to make students’ lives better so they can go on to become contributing members of society. We see them taking a look at themselves and trying to change their behavior in ways that help them achieve their goals. We see them developing more competence and confidence and achieving success, not only academically, but in their personal lives and in their careers.”
August 18, 2008