Faculty Spotlight: Laura Wheat

Assistant Professor and Coordinator
Grief Outreach Initiative

Laura WheatAs an intern and then as a practicing counselor, Laura Wheat noticed a lot of her young clients were grieving. The source of their grief included not only death but also chronic illness, family member incarceration or deployment, divorce and remarriage, relocation, and addiction.

“It seemed that too often adults didn’t recognize the grief of children and youth because it looked different than adult grief, or they didn’t respond to it because they prioritized another mental health or academic issue,” says Wheat. “I made it my mission to focus on this area to reduce the disenfranchisement and misunderstanding of
child and adolescent grief.”

When she heard about the college’s Grief Outreach Initiative (GOI) and their need for a counselor education faculty member to direct it, it seemed like a wide open door to that mission. The GOI, established by Dean Bob Rider in 2008, sends UT graduate and undergraduate students into local schools to provide one-on-one support and mentorship to PreK–12 students who have suffered a loss.

UT students enroll in the grief outreach course simultaneously, where they receive knowledge about how grief impacts children and youth and training in ways to help them. Any student across the university is eligible to participate.

The program is doing so much good in the community that next year GOI hopes to expand services to include a grief camp in the summer.

“Through the academic year activities of the GOI and the summer camp, I plan to conduct
research that adds to our understanding of how we can be helpful to children and adolescents in their grief so that they have the best chance for a bright future as they grow.”

Photograph by BJ Crawford

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