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Georgia Southern graduate student turns art into therapy for teachers, receives 2019 national Emerging Professional Development Leadership Award

At the 2019 National Association of Professional Development Schools (PDS) Conference (l-r): Richmond Hill High School (RHHS) Assistant Principal Meredith Tanner; RHHS Counseling Department Director Laine Lynch; Georgia Southern University graduate student Nicholas Wozniak, who holds the Emerging Professional Development Leadership Award; College of Education professor and PDS coordinator Ellen Whitford, Ed.D; and COE Associate Dean Cynthia Bolton-Gary, Ph.D.

Georgia Southern University College of Education graduate student Nick Wozniak, enrolled in the M.Ed. Counselor Education program, recently won the Emerging Professional Development Leadership Award at the 2019 National Association of Professional Development Schools Conference. The award recognized his work with the creation and implementation of an expressive arts workshop for Richmond Hill High School (RHHS) teachers.

With more than 20 years experience as an art educator, Wozniak is studying to become a school counselor. The change in direction largely stems from his time as a teacher in Sarasota, Florida, during the 2018 Parkland High School shooting. His emotions “bubbled over,” leaving him feeling helpless for his students who lost friends during the shooting. This, and years of watching students struggle with mental illness in his classroom, encouraged him to do more.

“I have always been interested in the power of art and its creative and healing abilities,” Wozniak said. “So I started looking at counseling programs all over the country.”

Returning to his roots, Wozniak moved back to Savannah, Georgia, where he had previously earned a BFA in photography from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). After attending SCAD, Wozniak enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art and earned a master’s in art education. Combining his art background and counseling education, Wozniak hopes to integrate expressive art into his therapy practices.

As a graduate assistant with the Department of Middle Grades and Secondary Education, Wozniak collaborates with RHHS as part of a professional development school partnership with Georgia Southern’s College of Education. While working with RHHS, Wozniak realized a need for emotional support of the teachers.

“We know mental health issues are being addressed for students, but the element that isn’t being addressed is the mental health of the teachers,” he said. “Teachers bear the weight of their own stress as well as that of their students, yet we aren’t giving them enough support.”

Wozniak wanted to do something to change that. With the support of the RHHS administration, he prepared a 10-session workshop utilizing the expressive arts to provide support to teachers. On Thursdays after school, the art room is opened up for the high school’s faculty to come create 2D and 3D artwork for an hour followed by a time to share and debrief, which Wozniak said has been powerful for those involved.

“The teachers are very appreciative of my time and thankful to use expressive art to create discussions and share their feelings,” he said. “I want to do all I can to help support the educators who are teaching our future leaders. I am hopeful that in the end these teachers will be a support system for each other.”

Sessions include activities such as creating artwork guided by emotions, personal history or life events. Wozniak explained that in a session titled, “Storms,” he asked teachers to create a bubble map of their current life stressors and use oil pastels to turn their stressors into colors and shapes.

“In a small way, I feel like I am making a difference for these teachers,” Wozniak said.

For more information about the counselor education program, visit

Georgia Southern University, a public Carnegie Doctoral/R2 institution founded in 1906, offers 141 degree programs serving nearly 26,500 students through nine colleges on three campuses in Statesboro, Savannah, Hinesville and online instruction. A leader in higher education in southeast Georgia, the University provides a diverse student population with expert faculty, world-class scholarship and hands-on learning opportunities. Georgia Southern creates lifelong learners who serve as responsible scholars, leaders and stewards in their communities. Visit



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