MCCC Counseling Center: Expanded Services and Holistic Approach Provide Tools for Student Success

Students Invited to Fresh Check Day, Coming to JKC March 21 and to West Windsor March 28


West Windsor-Trenton, N.J. – Life rarely goes in a straight line. That’s especially true for community college students who are pursuing their degrees while juggling myriad other responsibilities.

When and where students turn when they hit a roadblock can be the difference between success and failure.

The Counseling Center at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) is doing its part to keep students on the pathway to success. The staff includes four mental health professionals – three at the West Windsor Campus (SC229) and one at the James Kerney Campus (JK208) in Trenton. All are passionate about mental health and wellness.

“We incorporate mind, body, and spirit into everything we do,” says Counseling Center Director Yannick Ladson, who earned her doctorate in Counseling Psychology in 2015 and has worked as a mental health counselor for the past 14 years and in higher education for 20 years. She started at MCCC in September 2020.

Dr. Ladson notes that the Counseling Center is seeing more students than ever, due in part to the usual stresses of college life, but also because students are rebounding from the pandemic shutdown and crave in-person connections.

The center, which offered online counseling throughout the shutdown, has largely shifted to in-person sessions. “The last few years have been so lonely and isolating. Gen Z students had to finish high school remotely. They are so happy to be in person. Just being able to see, touch, and talk to people has been great for everybody,” Ladson observes.

A quick response to student queries is a top priority for the counseling staff. “All staff members get the email requests from students. Whoever is available responds. Students can generally expect a same-day response,” Dr. Ladson maintains, adding that the center has dedicated intake specialists who conduct the initial assessment, with a licensed therapist then determining intervention strategies.

Recognizing that many students have never participated in a counseling session, the center now offers Let’s Chat, a free, private, virtual drop-in service designed to introduce students to the counseling experience and help them with specific problems. Students can have an informal consultation with a licensed counselor who provides support, perspective, and suggestions and will weigh in on whether formal counseling would be useful. 

Once counseling has begun, Dr. Ladson’s goal for every student is to help them build their life skills toolbox in an educational environment. “If they need more intensive mental health treatment or other types of assistance, we can refer them to outside resources. Their challenge may be immigration, housing, or food. Many issues can impact a student’s ability to do well in school,” Dr. Ladson says.

According to Dr. Ladson, the center functions like a community agency – only better. “Our services are holistic and comprehensive. If there are problems in the classroom, with the student’s consent, we will reach out to a professor or success coach. We can connect students with the Center for Inclusion, Transition and Accessibility. We all work together to benefit our students,” she says.

Students with special needs or disabilities make up a portion of the center’s clients. Dr. Ladson notes that while the college provides accommodations, “navigating symptoms in the classroom can be a challenge. We are the bridge when a student asks, ‘How do I manage my symptoms? How do I cope?’”

Dr. Ladson cites several examples: a student having a panic attack in class or a student with ADHD who is having a hard time concentrating on assignments. “We give them techniques, tips, and tricks – everything from identifying their triggers to developing social skills and understanding appropriate classroom behavior.”

The Counseling Center is well-situated near the OneStop Center, where students routinely go for a variety of other services. And, the staff has worked hard to expand the center's visibility and promote its services by visiting classrooms and participating in college events. The staff will host a "Fresh Check Day" on both campuses: on March 21, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., in the JKC Lobby, and on March 28, 12 to 2 p.m., on the WWC Quad. This "mental health check-in" event includes interactive booths, refreshments, community resources, prizes and more.

Innovative programs abound. Recognizing Gen Z’s preference for communicating through apps on their mobile devices, the center now offers “TalkCampus,” an app that enables students to communicate with other MCCC students and students at other colleges about mental health issues. The app also features articles and resources about mental health, mindfulness, and yoga.

Suicide prevention is also a priority. Dr. Ladson, a certified QPR suicide prevention instructor, has begun offering suicide prevention trainings for both staff and students who want to earn their certification.

In in a joint initiative, Dr. Ladson and EOF Director Al-Lateef Farmer  have established a graduate assistant program for the Counseling Center and EOF. MCCC alumnus Brad Butler (’09), who earned his master’s degree in Counseling in December, worked at the center in Fall 2021. A motivational speaker who has addressed numerous groups at MCCC and worldwide, Butler proved a valuable addition to the staff.

The counseling staff has plenty of plans in the pipeline. Dr. Ladson is hoping to establish an MCCC student chapter of Active Minds, a national nonprofit dedicated to promoting mental health, especially among young adults, via peer-to-peer dialogue and interaction. She is also working to expand in-person and virtual support groups that meet at Mercer. (Currently, the college hosts weekly meetings of One Day at a Time, a substance abuse support group led by Terry Smith.)

Dr. Ladson notes that she has gotten solid support from Dr. Tonia Perry-Conley, Executive Dean for Student Services (interim), and areas of the college that regularly refer students, like the Center for Retention and Completion, Educational Opportunity Fund, and individual professors.

MCCC counseling services are free and confidential. Appointments are recommended. Spring 2022 drop-in hours are Mondays, 12 to 4 p.m. at both the WWC and JKC offices. Learn more here.

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The Counseling Center staff includes, standing from left, Kim Mayner and Marvina Jackson; seated from left, Juliana Londoño, Katie Guers, and Director Yannick Ladson. The center will host a "Fresh Check Day" for students on both campuses: on March 21, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. in the JKC Lobby, and on March 28, from 12 to 2 p.m., on the WWC Quad. This "mental health check-in" event includes interactive booths, refreshments, community resources, prizes and more.