Brett Santo, a second-year Clinical Mental Health Counseling student at Southern Connecticut State University, has been honored with the esteemed Student and Emerging Professionals Award from the American Mental Health Counselors Association (AMHCA). This prestigious accolade recognizes outstanding individuals who embody the core values of the clinical mental health counseling profession and demonstrate exceptional potential for future contributions to the field.
In addition, Santo’s professor, Laurie Bonjo, associate professor of counseling and school psychology, walked away with AMHCA’s Dr. Linda Seligman Counselor Educator of the Year Award, which recognizes those who spend 51 percent of their time in academic pursuits: teaching, training, consulting, supervising, researching, or program development. This award is intended to recognize outstanding and humanitarian service to others.
The awards were presented in June at the AMHCA Annual Conference in New Orleans.
According to Bonjo, her goal has always been to impact the counseling industry through academic program development. “I wanted to be a disruptor,” she said.
At Southern, Bonjo developed and implemented the first CACREP-accredited doctoral program in counselor education and supervision in New England. Currently, she also serves as its program coordinator. She teaches courses such as: advanced multicultural counseling, advanced group dynamics, teaching and practice, advanced research design, doctoral practicum, program evaluation, dissertation seminar, and dissertation advising.
Bonjo is also one of the professors who nominated Santo. Last year, she nominated the winner of that year’s Student and Emerging Professionals Award, Cody Helgesen.
“Laurie has so much passion for what she does and that trickles down to everyone who interacts with her,” said Santo.
In a nomination letter to the committee, Bonjo described Santo as “an emerging leader with clear goals for future contributions to the field of mental health.”
Currently, Santo is the president of the Connecticut Mental Health Counselors Association as well as the Membership Committee Chair of Chi Sigma iota Sigma Chi Sigma chapter at Southern and the Conference Committee Co-Chair and Sponsorship Coordinator at the Connecticut Counseling Association.
In addition to his leadership roles in the field, he has advocated for marginalized populations by reaching out to legislators and encouraging increased access to mental health, including telemental health access. He also assisted with writing language for a bill that would allow Connecticut to join a compact so counselors licensed here in the state can practice in other regions.
“Brett’s service to the profession is truly exceptional…This level of service and success is simply remarkable for a counselor at any stage of their career, and exponentially more so for a counseling student,” said Bonjo.
Santo’s passion and dedication are underscored by the myriad awards he has received previously, including the Graduate Student Award from the Connecticut Counseling Association, New Member Award from the Connecticut Counseling Association, Outstanding Entry Level Student Award from Chi Sigma Iota Counseling Academic and Professional Honor Society International, and the Social Justice Community Award for Outstanding Graduate Student from Southern.
“I celebrate and honor everyone’s uniqueness and look to find ways of changing the world so that it is inclusive to all,” Santo said.
Upon completing his master’s degree, he plans to complete a doctorate in counseling education and supervision at Southern.
“Ultimately, I want to be the person in the room who can bring out the marginalized voices,” Santo said.