Arsène Kabeya was not sure how he would afford tuition for a master’s program. In May, with the help of a fellowship award, he graduated from the Counselor Education master’s program in the University of Kentucky College of Education.
“I’m the first person in my immediate family to be in grad school,” Kabeya said. “I knew from the beginning that, financially, it was going to be very difficult. The fellowship I received means everything for me and for my family.”
His advisor, Dr. Ralph Crystal, thinks the impact is two-fold. The funding helped Kabeya afford school, and was the catalyst behind adding another professional to the counseling field – an area of high need.
“Arsène will no doubt make a difference in countless lives,” Crystal said. “By supporting graduate students through gifts to the college, donors are making it possible to send highly-trained individuals into careers where they are doing a remarkable job of supporting others and filling areas of high need.”
Kabeya recently became a U.S. citizen – 13 years after first setting foot on American soil. Born in 1991 in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kabeya’s family sought asylum in Zambia when he was six-years-old. They left everything they knew, not knowing where they would eventually call home.
“My dad told us we are doing this resettlement thing,” Kabeya recalled. “He said there’s a possibility we could go to the U.S.”
Home has become Lexington, Ky. In 2006, when Kabeya was 14, his family boarded an airplane for the first time, on a two-day journey from Africa to Lexington by way of layovers in Kenya, England, New York, and Chicago.
“When you are in Africa, especially as a little kid, you think of the U.S. as what it looks like in the media, in places like New York or Miami,” Kabeya said. “When I arrived in Lexington, I wondered ‘where are the sky scrapers?’ Likewise, a lot of people see media about Africa, the kids starving, and think it all looks that way, but there’s a balance.”
Like many parents of refugees, Kabeya’s pushed school as a way to create a better life. During a time in his life when everything was new and foreign, one thing that remained constant was soccer. It became his passion, and a way of affording college. He was a standout at Henry Clay High School and earned a scholarship to play at Earlham College, a Division III school in Richmond, Indiana.
Kabeya is a people person, and thrived in college, where he developed friendships with teammates and students from across the globe. After college, he returned to Lexington with few resources, unsure of what he wanted to do with his psychology degree.
“I feel like I’ve always had a heart to give back,” Kabeya said. “I’ve always wanted to find myself in a position where I could do some work that’s meaningful. I was back home and looking for different jobs.”
True to Kabeya’s belief that everything happens for a reason, he ran into his high school soccer coach.
“He said ‘hey, there’s a paraeducator position open at Henry Clay, why don’t you give it a shot?,’” Kabeya recalled.
Kabeya spent four years with Fayette County Public Schools. The first three, he worked at Henry Clay High School with students who had physical and intellectual disabilities. The last year, he moved to Jessie Clark Middle School where he worked with the school’s refugee population.
“The kids immediately were drawn to me,” Kabeya said. “We connected. I always felt like I would love to continue in this path.”
An alumnus of UK’s Counselor Education program introduced Kabeya to the idea of going to graduate school to become a counselor. He connected with faculty from the program and, while researching the career possibilities it offered, became drawn to the major. His concerns about paying for the degree were eased when he received a Lyman T. Johnson Diversity Fellowship from UK, and later received funding from an endowment at the UK College of Education – the Charles Wallace Hill Professorship.
Kabeya’s professors helped connect him with The Ridge in Lexington to complete his practicum and internship. There, he worked with adolescents and adults who have substance abuse or mental health needs.
Through his studies, and his previous work with special education students, Kabeya has come to understand how meaningful work can be to someone’s life, particularly for someone who doesn’t fit the traditional path of going from high school to college to a career. Kabeya has an affinity for helping people with disabilities discover opportunities they can pursue.
“People, regardless of their abilities, want to be in a position where they are doing something, connecting to a community,” Kabeya said. “If I can play a part in helping them find that, I know I will have found where I am supposed to be.”
UK’s master’s program in Counselor Education was established in 1962 and is among the oldest in the nation. The program, which was previously known as Rehabilitation Counseling, offers both masters (with online-only and campus-based hybrid options) in Counselor Education and Clinical Mental Health Counseling, and a doctoral degree program in Counselor Education and Supervision. The master’s and doctoral programs are accredited by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
For more information about degrees in the Counselor Education program, contact Dr. Keith B. Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.