Students flock to new mental health degree offerings

When developing new curriculum, Davenport leadership considers various factors, most prominent being fulfilling a community need and the degree’s ability to lead students toward a successful career. Davenport’s two most recent mental health-related degrees do just that.

This fall Davenport launched the Master of Arts in mental health counseling and the Master of Science in nursing with a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentration, and each has seen strong enrollment.

“The Mental Health Counseling program launch has exceeded expectations,” said Dr. Gerald Nyambane, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and College of Urban Education at Davenport University. “We almost tripled our enrollment goal for the Fall Semester.”

The degree programs — from two different colleges within the university — both address the growing need for mental health services. Nearly half the practitioners surveyed in a recent American Psychological Association study said they are unable to meet patient demand for treatment. And, on average, psychologists reported being contacted by more than 15 potential new patients seeking care each month.

These programs give students the skills and real-world practicum experience to help those in their community facing mental health challenges.

Lesli Richardson of Grand Rapids was the first student to enroll in the Master of Arts in mental health counseling program. Richardson is working toward her second master’s degree; she currently holds a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in education, both secured two decades ago. “We, as a country, have been through so much, and there is such a need in our community,” said Richardson. “I strongly feel I can help people.”

The majority of students enrolled this first year learned about the counseling program from family members, other undergraduate students or alumni of Davenport. And the students come from diverse backgrounds with undergraduate degrees in fields such as criminal justice, psychology, employment and labor relations and accounting.

“Since the pandemic, the need for mental health counseling has become even more urgent,” said Nyambane. “Instances of substance abuse have gone up; the need for mental health counseling continues to spike. We’re offering a unique program that addresses the real issues that exist right now.”

Within the program, students gain real-world experience through a 100-hour practicum in a mental health setting and a 600-hour internship in the counseling field under the supervision of a qualified mental health provider.

Enrollment is also strong for the Master of Science in nursing with a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner concentration program. This curriculum helps nurses advance their knowledge and build the skills necessary to level up their careers and care for patients with mental, emotional or behavioral conditions. The curriculum focuses on addressing psychopathology, substance use disorders and behavioral health. In addition, students learn effective counseling and crisis intervention strategies, how to conduct mental health assessments, and how to provide psychiatric care and rehabilitation.

“We started off small, but word has quickly spread,” said Dr. Amy Stahley, dean of the College of Health Professions for Davenport University. “This is a different type of nursing. Students often gravitate toward pediatrics, obstetrics and emergency medicine. We’re excited that a mental health specialty is now on their radar, too.”

Through the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program, students develop the specialized knowledge and empathy needed to address mental health topics in today’s society — valuable skills that include focused listening, analytical thinking and the ability to help others navigate through difficult circumstances, shared Stahley.

Abbie Breese graduated from Davenport in 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in nursing. As time passed, Breese, like so many others, struggled to find mental health care for her family and others within her circle, and found a six-month waiting list for ADHD evaluation. She said going back to school felt like the right step.

“It was frustrating trying to seek care as someone who is educated in the medical field,” said Breese. “I can only imagine the struggles others face. Ideally, I’d like to work with children, as they seem to have the hardest time getting the care they need.”

A generous gift to support mental health at Davenport from alumnus Keith Klingenberg and his wife, Kathy, provided the funds to support the curriculum development for both of these degree programs.

Stahley is excited about the student response to the programs so far. “We’ve vastly exceeded our goals for fall enrollment,” she said, “which indicates the tremendous need for this program. What’s really exciting is understanding the impact these graduates will have on the people they serve.”

To learn more about the Master of Arts in mental health counseling program, visit


Klingenberg donation addresses mental health needs and programs

Alumnus Keith Klingenberg, CEO and founder of Presidio Insurance Solutions, an Acrisure Agency partner, and his wife, Kathy, gifted the university $1 million in early 2023 to address mental health needs through both curriculum additions and student counseling services.

“We are incredibly grateful for the ongoing support of Keith Klingenberg and his family,” said Dr. Richard J. Pappas, president of Davenport University. “It’s gifts such as this that move Davenport forward, allowing us to develop new academic programs as well as solutions to the multitude of challenges students may face in their academic journey, whether financial, social, mental or physical.”

The Klingenberg family’s gift enabled the launch of two new mental health degrees, the Master of Arts in mental health counseling and the Master of Science in nursing with a concentration in psychiatric mental health nursing.

The university’s New Wellness Center on Davenport’s W.A. Lettinga Campus in Grand Rapids houses a new mental wellness space that was made possible by the generosity of the Klingenberg family.

The Wellness Center, which opened this year, offers students both physical and mental health services and employs two mental health counselors and a part-time nurse. The center provides in-person support to students on the W.A. Lettinga Campus and online support for students from across the state.

This generous gift is part of Davenport University’s ELEVATE campaign.

To learn more about the ELEVATE campaign or contribute to these programs in support of Davenport students, please visit


No Responses