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#WhyIChoseEducation: ‘I Realized What a Big Impact I Can Make In Education,’ Says Helen Lupton-Smith ’96PHD

Photo of Helen-Lupton Smith with the quote: I realized what an impact I can make in education.

When Helen Lupton-Smith ’96PHD was teaching in New York City, one of her mentors told her she needed to earn her doctoral degree through the NC State College of Education’s counselor education program, so she could learn from Professor Emeritus Norman Sprinthall. 

“He was one of the most amazing educators I had ever seen,” Lupton-Smith said.

Lupton-Smith said Sprinthall, who passed away in March, helped show her the type of impact she could make as a teacher, researcher and practitioner. 

At NC State, Lupton-Smith helped College of Education Professor Marc Grimmett launch the Community Counseling, Education, and Research Center (CCERC), which provides counseling services to people in the community who do not have health insurance or cannot afford to pay out of pocket for mental health services, and she later served as the clinic’s co-director.

The goal was for the center to become a model for other universities to build on, so when Lupton-Smith joined North Carolina Central University as an associate professor of counselor education, she saw an opportunity to further the work she and Grimmett started at the NC State College of Education. Now, with support from a $200,000 award from Blue Cross NC, she will lead the opening of the Eagle Counseling, Consultation, and Research Clinic (ECCRC), a community counseling clinic at North Carolina Central University:  

“We wanted this to spread to other universities because it’s a win-win for the university program and the community,” Lupton-Smith said.

Lupton-Smith said she is drawing from her experience at CCERC to benefit the Durham community.

“We have our own vision, but the partnership and the philosophies are so similar to what we did at NC State, and there are a lot of NC State alumni that are teaching in this program,” Lupton-Smith said.  

NC State alumnus Alyx Beckwith ’18PHD is helping Lupton-Smith launch the center, and NC State doctoral student Malaika Edwards will serve as the clinical coordinator. Lupton-Smith said she sees ECCRC as complementing CCERC, making counseling more widely accessible across the state.

The following interview has been edited for length and clarity. 

Why I Chose Education:

I realized what a big impact I can make in education. I can make a service impact, I can make a research impact and I can make a direct impact as an advisor and as a teacher. There are so many parts of education where I can make an impact. I can make an impact starting this clinic and helping to get that going. I’ve also been really influenced to be an educator by my mentors and by following the doors that have opened up for me, and they’ve opened up really nicely and at the right time.

How Education Has Shaped Me:

I honestly believe that education shaped me the most when I got into graduate school. Once I hit the master’s level, I felt like my mentors and professors knew where I was strong and knew where I had to grow. And they kept building me and my confidence to where I felt confident enough to go and get some grant funding, or I felt confident enough to help start a big initiative that will provide a real positive contribution. When I started my master’s, it really started impacting me as a whole person, bringing out my strengths and bringing out the way I was supposed to contribute.

What I Enjoy Most About the College of Education:

As a student at the NC State College of Education, I really started getting that full college experience that I felt like I didn’t have before. Just being at NC State, at a big institution, an urban institution — I’d be in the parking lot and hear the train go by — was exciting. I was really into sports, so being part of the Wolfpack, it was a very full experience for me. I felt very much a part of a whole college experience, which was really cool to get at your doctoral level. 

I also felt like I knew my professors really well. They brought me on to help me write, and they helped give me opportunities to publish, so when I was ready to go out and work, I had publications. 

I got a lot of very personal mentoring. They were phenomenal educators, and they were really good models with very high support. I had great peers and colleagues; we really helped each other. I had my person or people that helped me when I started, and when they graduated I would help the person that was just right behind me. I had really strong relationships. 

When I worked there, I had a lot of autonomy, which let me and Dr. Grimmett work on the initiative that became CCERC. I had a lot of freedom, and I had a lot of people that had confidence in me. I got to do a ton of different things, which made me ready for different positions. Even though my position wasn’t research, I was able to do research. I got to teach classes, and I loved the students. 

Dr. Grimmett and I are really close friends, and so I had so much fun and was very connected to my program and to counselor education. I also have some really good friends and great connections in the College of Education that I’m still in touch with. There was a lot of energy and great relationships and freedom to grow.

What Others Should Know About the NC State College of Education:

I believe on all levels that the College of Education is committed to diversity and multiculturalism. With counselor education, we were committed to growing in those areas and, where we were falling short, to trying to do better. There was a commitment to that. 

I really hope NC State always sees that one of the highlights of the College of Education and the university is CCERC and the vision of people like Marc Grimmett. There are just some brilliant, brilliant minds and colleagues in the College of Education. The College of Education has some really smart people in it, really kind people and some incredible initiatives. 

The Last Thing I Experienced That Inspired Me:

Malaika Edwards was right beside me, and I’m looking at this incredible space that is going to be beautiful for the clinic. And then I walk in, and we’re getting ready to roll up our sleeves and clean offices, and two of them are already cleaned out. Then, I see there’s a phone already for the clinic and email has been set up. I’m living in a spot of inspiration right now, with the amount of support that is happening for this initiative that we’ve been working on.