Professional News

UK's Harley Recognized for Multicultural Research in Counselor Education

Debra Harley of the College of Education
Debra Harley of the College of Education

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 8, 2021) — University of Kentucky College of Education professor Debra Harley has been named a 2021 recipient of the Bobbie Atkins Research Award from the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns. The award recognizes excellence in research in the rehabilitation field, with particular emphasis on research uplifting individuals with disabilities through a lens focused on multiculturalism and diversity.  

Harley accepted the award virtually at the organization’s national conference.  

“Accepting this award meant a great deal to me and I am appreciative to the National Association of Multicultural Rehabilitation Concerns for calling attention to how our field works to change society’s perceptions of individuals with disabilities, as well as how intersecting identities play a role. If we approach the challenges of social inclusion from an asset model, rather than a deficit, individuals with membership in marginalized groups are afforded the opportunity of self-determination. It is important that we look at these and other persistent and emerging trends in the discipline, particularly as they relate to the multicultural arena. To be recognized by the leading national organization for this work is an honor,” Harley said. 

Harley is a Provost’s Distinguished Service Professor in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education at the UK College of Education. She is a certified rehabilitation counselor and a licensed professional counselor. Her award nominators noted her influence and longevity in the production of multicultural research and lauded her for being among the first to introduce the field to new and significant issues that helped shape further research and thinking.   

"Dr. Harley has served on the College of Education faculty for nearly three decades. She has significantly contributed to our program’s rise to the top of national rankings and has played a remarkable role in mentorship introducing hundreds of counselors to the field. Dr. Harley is widely regarded for her contributions in seeking equal rights, social justice and quality of life for persons with disabilities. Additionally, she is a strong advocate for our students and rehabilitation counseling professionals,” said Ralph Crystal, chair of the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education and Counselor Education and the Wallace Charles Hill Professor of Counselor Education. 

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. 

Harley received her doctoral degree in special education (early childhood) and rehabilitation counseling (substance abuse) from Southern Illinois University at 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.