Professional News

Counselor Education’s Harley recognized as leader, pioneer

University of Kentucky College of Education professor Debra Harley
University of Kentucky College of Education Professor Debra Harley

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 9, 2022) — University of Kentucky College of Education Professor Debra Harley, Ph.D., has been named the 2022 recipient of the Vernon Hawkins Pioneer and Leadership Award from the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation ConcernsThe award recognizes the pioneering efforts, courage, leadership and advocacy Harley has taken on in her work in the rehabilitation counseling field. 

Harley accepted the award virtually at the organization’s national conference. The award was established in 2007 and named for Vernon Hawkins, a rehabilitation professional recognized for his work in achieving increased leadership and involvement of persons of color throughout the field of rehabilitation.  

As a provost’s Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education at the UK College of Education, Harley’s research helps lift individuals with disabilities through a lens focused on multiculturalism and diversity. She is a certified rehabilitation counselor and a licensed professional counselor. During a career spanning three decades, she has been among the first in the rehabilitation counseling field to introduce new and significant issues that help shape further research and thinking. 

“Dr. Harley has played an integral role in ensuring our counseling programs are consistently ranked among the top in the nation. Her impact in the field is immense, from publishing research to influencing clinical practice to working with individuals to find their voice and enhance their quality of life,” said Keith B. Wilson, Ph.D., program chair/coordinator and director of graduate studies in the Counselor Education programs. 

Ralph Crystal, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education, echoed Wilson’s praise for Harley’s career.   

It is difficult to quantify her impact, as it continues to grow each year through her efforts to prepare students for a career where they, too, will make a difference,” Crystal said. 

Harley centers her research on individuals with mental health and substance use disorders and her work emphasizes value and regard for individuals with disabilities. Harley has been influential in ensuring the field considers the intersectionality of identities among the populations served, including cultural diversity, gender, sexual orientation, age and other social positionalities. 

“I’m extremely honored to receive this recognition from the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns that my work is worthy of this distinction and their trust that I will live up to the legacy of Mr. Hawkins,” Harley said“My career has been extremely rewarding and I look forward to continued work in this field ensuring social justice and inclusion and helping marginalized people identify their agency and become empowered.” 

Harley earned her doctoral degree in special education (early childhood) and rehabilitation counseling (substance abuse) from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1992. Prior to that, she completed a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling at South Carolina State University, where she also earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in sociology. 

The University of Kentucky is increasingly the first choice for students, faculty and staff to pursue their passions and their professional goals. In the last two years, Forbes has named UK among the best employers for diversity, and INSIGHT into Diversity recognized us as a Diversity Champion four years running. UK is ranked among the top 30 campuses in the nation for LGBTQ* inclusion and safety. UK has been judged a “Great College to Work for" three years in a row, and UK is among only 22 universities in the country on Forbes' list of "America's Best Employers."  We are ranked among the top 10 percent of public institutions for research expenditures — a tangible symbol of our breadth and depth as a university focused on discovery that changes lives and communities. And our patients know and appreciate the fact that UK HealthCare has been named the state’s top hospital for five straight years. Accolades and honors are great. But they are more important for what they represent: the idea that creating a community of belonging and commitment to excellence is how we honor our mission to be not simply the University of Kentucky, but the University for Kentucky.