In October of 2023, 2010 doctoral alumna Heather Robertson was nominated for  the Educator of the Year Award from Transitional Services of New York Inc., a nonprofit organization that provides rehabilitation and employment services as well as housing programs and counseling to people living with Mental Illness. For the people that know her, it’s no surprise.

 “I was just ecstatic,” said Pamelia Brott, a retired Virginia Tech professor and Robertson’s former mentor. “It's so good when someone so deserving gets that recognition. I have followed Heather's career, and she has just done amazing things.”

Robertson currently splits her time between being a tenured Professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and as a telemental health clinician at National EAP. EAP stands for Employee Assistance Program, a type of counseling agency that a company contracts with to ofer a certain number of sessions to their employees as part of their benefits package. 

But that doesn’t even begin to encapsulate all the work she’s done.

In 2016, Robertson won her first grant for telemental health counseling, and she continues to do research and presentations in that field.

When the pandemic hit in March of 2020, she was halfway through writing her first textbook on telecounseling.

“The publisher called me when the pandemic hit New York in March, and the book was due in July,” Robertson said. “And she said , can you give it to me early? I said no, I cannot. Maybe in June.”

In addition to the extra work that  came from being the de facto telecounseling expert in her department, Robertson was having to check if the things she had written before the pandemic started were still true.

“I had to go back and redo chapters I had done prior, because things were changing all the time and information was coming out all the time,” Robertson said. “I had to go back to the earlier chapters and see how much of that was in alignment with what we were learning in the process and also going through it ourselves.”

Another one of Robertson’s professional passions is career counseling. In fact, it’s what got her into the field in the first place.

Before she was a mental health counselor, Robertson was a special education teacher, and one of her favorite parts of her job was teaching a course called occupational preparation.

“To come into client employment, client advocacy around the time of the Americans with  Disabilities Act was super exciting. There was lots of federal money being thrown in that area. So early in my career, I did a lot of welfare to work programs, a lot of school to work programs, a lot of incarceration to work programs,” Robertson said.  “And that's typically my comfort zone, working with folks on the margin.”

In fact, that was a major reason she chose Virginia Tech.

“I always say career counseling is my first professional counseling identity, even though I'm now a rehab counselor and a substance use counselor and a mental health counselor,” Robertson said  “That's what brought me to Virginia Tech. At the time, there was a faculty member there, Pamelia Brott, who was later my mentor, and she was a career counseling professional.”

Although Robertson plans to stay in the field for several years, she already has plans on how to stay busy during retirement, focusing her passion as a military spouse towards working with members of the military and their loved ones.

“If I ever have a retirement passion project, it's going to be helping military spouses get licensed [as a counselor],” Robertson said.

Written by Alexandra Krens