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. 

As the state’s flagship, land-grant institution, the University of Kentucky exists to advance the Commonwealth. We do that by preparing the next generation of leaders — placing students at the heart of everything we do — and transforming the lives of Kentuckians through education, research and creative work, service and health care. We pride ourselves on being a catalyst for breakthroughs and a force for healing, a place where ingenuity unfolds. It's all made possible by our people — visionaries, disruptors and pioneers — who make up 200 academic programs, a $476.5 million research and development enterprise and a world-class medical center, all on one campus.   

In 2022, UK was ranked by Forbes as one of the “Best Employers for New Grads” and named a “Diversity Champion” by INSIGHT into Diversity, a testament to our commitment to advance Kentucky and create a community of belonging for everyone. While our mission looks different in many ways than it did in 1865, the vision of service to our Commonwealth and the world remains the same. We are the University for Kentucky.