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Q&A with Nicole McKinney

October 26, 2015

Nicole McKinney is a doctoral candidate in her fifth year of the Couple and Family Therapy Program. Though still completing her dissertation research and internship requirements, Nicole has made impressive strides in the completion of coursework, defending dissertation prospectus successfully and developing her professional portfolio. In 2012, she started working with Roberta Waite, PhD, professor and assistant dean of academic integration and evaluation of community programs in the Doctoral Nursing Department, as a research assistant. This project paired with McKinney’s other research has led to the publication of 10 peer-reviewed papers.

“Nicole truly embodies the work ethic and scholarly conduct we aspire from our professional research students,” said Waite. “Her own ambition drives her to continue with the learning process and is a model for other graduate students.”

McKinney shares her advice on balancing work and scholarship, learning (and contributing) across disciplines, finding mentors and maintaining valuable professional connections.

Q: Tell our Off the Charts readers about your path to Drexel’s Couple and Family Therapy Program. What is your career objective once you’ve completed your doctoral degree?

A: The path leading me to Drexel’s Couple and Family Therapy program was rather unpredictable, interesting and that of divine intervention. Coming from a counseling psychology background in my master-level education with several years of experience working with persons with traumatic brain injuries, a clinical psychology program with a neuropsychology focus was my initial desire. However, as I scrolled through the doctoral programs Drexel University offered, I realized I hadn’t had much educational exposure to the systemic framework couple and family therapy offers.

I yearned to look beyond the individual and recognized the importance of all players of the family. Drexel University’s Couple and Family Therapy program offered the missing pieces to complete my specific mission as a therapist -- social justice, systemic conceptualization, diversity, cultural sensitivity, self of the therapist work and recognizing, extracting and factoring in contextual variables.

Seeking a doctoral degree from Drexel University has set me on a path to fulfill my ultimate passions of: 1. teaching on the collegiate level, 2. continued involvement with non-profit organizations and community outreach, 3. providing therapy to couples and families and 4. participating in research. As I conclude my doctoral studies, the experience and training I’ve received in the program has put me in a competitive position to attain all of my career goals, some of which I have already achieved.

Q: Your accomplishments show that you truly know how to leverage opportunities for professional and educational development. How did you come across opportunities to work with mentors?

A: I was selected by Dr. Kenneth Hardy to work as his graduate assistant for my first three years. Working with Dr. Hardy, a skilled therapist professional, professor and remarkable speaker, assisted in the development of my clinical abilities. Embarking on my personal self-work helped in heightening my self-awareness, uncovering therapeutic blind-spots and refining my voice.

Shortly after the start of my second year, I had the opportunity to interview to work with Dr. Roberta Waite, a renowned nurse, professor, researcher and leader in various community settings. Being awarded an assistantship with Dr. Waite in the Nursing Department for two years permitted me to network across disciplines. Strengthening my quantitative SPSS data analysis abilities, accelerating my research writing skills and crafting/publishing empirical research-based manuscripts were among a few opportunities I was afforded while working with Dr. Waite.

Q: Your work is what some might consider unconventional in the sense that you’ve collaborated across disciplines. How has this work made you a stronger candidate for future opportunities/employment?

A: Working for Dr. Waite has cultivated my professional growth. Her breadth of knowledge and experience of the nursing field (as a nurse and educator) has enriched my learning as to how to be a proficient teacher, researcher and how to build authentic relationships. I have learned by branching out and working with Dr. Waite that the nursing profession and the marriage and family therapy disciplines have many overlapping themes within the healthcare sector. Furthermore, the importance of professional collaboration and building scholarship were elements of success Dr. Waite instilled in me.

The venues of interdisciplinary work I’ve engaged have not only spread across disciplines but also of that of numerous communities. Being a biracial woman has enriched my life and has positioned me to relate to and identify with both privileged and underserved persons. Typically, poverty stricken, racially profiled areas are prey to locations of underserved minority populations. One of my visions as a family therapist is to give a voice to those underrepresented persons who do not have vociferous influence, particularly minority populations. Since 2012, I’ve had the pleasure of volunteering to better prepare minority adolescent females, in grades 6-8, to transition more smoothly into the older teen years with necessary skills to obtain educational, emotional, professional and personal success. More recently, this year I spoke as a panelist in the topic area of “Breaking the Mold: Having Confidence in Your Gift” for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Youth Jurisdictional Youth Department Convocation having another opportunity to encourage young people. However, the most rewarding and empowering outreach experience occurred this year when I participated in my very first mission trip to the Dominican Republic with the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Church of God in Christ (COGIC) missions providing medical support, distributing donated food and clothing and praying for/with those met on the voyage.

I look forward to making further contributions to the field through providing therapy to clients, conducting research, presenting at conferences, and attaining publications in the future made possible through doctoral work with Drexel University.

Q: What advice would you give to other students who hope to build their own body of work? How can they find opportunities as you have? Where should they look?

A: My advice to other students in building their own body of work is to do just that – build your own work. Awareness of one’s hopes, dreams and goals should always be in the forefront when deciding what opportunities to pursue and accept. Pray. Seek counsel from educators, peers, family, friends and community leaders. Network, network, network! You never know who knows who or what and can link you to valuable prospects. Take advantage of opportunities. Yet, be mindful every opportunity is not for everyone. Do not count any potential opportunity out until learning more about it first. Choose those opportunities that best gel with your career path and future goals. Be willing to be challenged. Be willing to take risks and chances. Continually acknowledge it’s a learning process. Trust the process. Understand it’s hard work. And always believe in yourself.