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Counselor Education Students Place First in ACA Competition

Counselor Education’s first-year doctoral cohort – Kertesha Riley, Wes Allen, Jessica Marzi, and Gerald Spangler – placed first in the American Counseling Association (ACA) Graduate Student Ethics Competition.

The ACA Ethics Committee explains this competition allows graduate students to critically analyze a scenario and create an appropriate decision-making plan to respond to the ethical dilemma.

Read below to learn about their experiences throughout this competition.


Kertesha Riley

What was it like working with your cohort?
The competition started early fall semester, so we still were new as a cohort and new to the program. Looking back, there were times I second guessed our decision – wondering if it was naïve of us to take on this challenge while adjusting to our first year as doctoral students! Early on, we each had strong opinions about what we should be considering in the case and solutions to the prompt, and that caused some interesting debates throughout the six weeks of the competition. In the end though, I think it helped us learn more about each other’s personalities, our (growing) counselor educator identities, and even our working styles. Ultimately, I believe that helped us connect in ways we may missed if we had not done something like this.

How did it feel to win this award?
When we were first notified, we were definitely excited about the news! However, I don’t think we understood the gravity of the announcement until word reached our department. Our team was the first team from UT Knoxville to place first in the competition! The congratulations we received from faculty and other students was like icing on the cake after all of the hard work we put into the competition. Also, with me being a part-time student, it made me feel like I was truly a part of the program now.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
When we first signed up for the competition, I said “we better at least get first” LOL It was joke (sort of!), but I believe that statement ended up motivating us throughout the competition. It was tough, but I really appreciated the perspectives and commitment each of my cohort members brought to the team, and I believe that’s what helped us secure first place!


Wes Allen

What was it like working with your cohort?
It was exciting, and challenging at the same time. I appreciated that we felt comfortable enough to challenge each other, and were able to do so in a way that ultimately brought us much closer together.

How did it feel to win this award?
I was relieved that all our our hard word was really worth something. I don’t think much of it sank in until our professors explained to us what an honor it was to be selected.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
I’d like my teammates and cohort members to know that even without the win I think they are exceptional people, counselors, and scholars.


Jessica Marzi

What was it like working with your cohort?
It was good yet hard because we were trying to coordinate schedules, which feels even harder when everyone is a doc student. The nice part was collaborating together and seeing each other in a different capacity from class.

How did it feel to win this award?
It was extremely satisfying because UT Knoxville hasn’t won it before, and we felt we were able to contribute something that shows the strength of the program.


Gerald Spangler

What was it like working with your cohort?
I enjoyed working with our team because of the flexibility we displayed. This competition was our first project together, but outside of that, we all had, and still have, different personal and academic requirements and timelines. However, each member’s personal flexibility allowed us to work past those considerations and focus on the competition. Collectively as a group, I thought that flexibility allowed us to bring a wide range of views, experiences, and ideas to the table.

How did it feel to win this award?
It felt great to win this award and I am proud of what we accomplished as a team. There are a lot of great ways to describe this experience, but I had a chance to see individual leadership and team-oriented qualities shine during this process. It also feels pretty good realizing that I was a member of a team of future professionals headed to the counselor education field.

Is there anything else you would like to say?
I am proud of my cohort and glad that I was given an opportunity to learn through and with them during our time together. They are solid professionals and I look forward to future projects and challenging opportunities.


Educational Psychology & Counseling Department
College of Education, Health & Human Sciences

535 Bailey Education Complex
1122 Volunteer Boulevard
Knoxville, TN 37996-3452
Phone: 865-974-8145 Fax: 865-974-0135