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Bjornestad receives S.D. Counseling Association award

Andrea Bjornestad, an assistant professor in the South Dakota State University Department of Counseling and Human Development, received the E. Gordon Poling Administrator Award from the South Dakota Counseling Association. The award recognizes individuals who demonstrate understanding and support of the counseling profession while working in a supervisory capacity.

Andrea Bjornestad
Andrea Bjornestad

"This is a nice honor because the award encompasses the entire role of counselor-educator, working with students, research and outreach,” said Bjornestad, who has been teaching at State since 2014. She is also the SDSU Extension Mental Health Specialist.

“This award recognizes Andrea’s outstanding commitment to improving the mental health of South Dakotans through her teaching, research and outreach,” said Professor Jay Trenhaile, head of the Department of Counseling and Human Development, who received the E. Gordon Poling Administrator Award in 2006.

Bjornestad is principal investigator or co-principal investigator for approximately $1 million in research funding. Last year, she was named outstanding researcher for the College of Education and Human Sciences.

Dean Jill Thorngren said, “Andrea brings passion and commitment to her role as an educator and researcher. She is helping address some of the most important issues in our state–mental health and wellness and military support. Andrea’s efforts are benefitting not only students in the classroom, but stakeholders across South Dakota. She truly exemplifies an outstanding counselor-educator at a land-grant university.”

Working with military

Through a cooperative agreement from the U.S. Army Research Institute for the Social and Behavioral Sciences, Bjornestad developed an active listening skills curriculum that is being implemented and tested, first with Army ROTC and then with military leaders in the Army National Guard. Based on those results, the Army Research Institute will evaluate the curriculum’s usefulness.

“Engaging in effective listening in the military is critical as information is communicated during missions, feedback is provided during developmental counseling and crisis situations are identified. Active listening skills can help military leaders mentor subordinates and build teams,” said Bjornestad, whose husband served in the military for 14 years. In addition to improving communication during developmental counseling, her hope is that military leaders will be perceived as approachable for subordinates who are struggling with issues, such as family problems, deployment and mental health concerns.

Helping producers manage stress

Bjornestad, who has been doing research on the mental health of agricultural producers since 2015, leads the SDSU Extension rural behavioral health team. Their work focuses on farm stress management.

Through a new partnership between the South Dakota Counseling Association and SDSU Extension, Bjornestad will lead a team on organizing an agricultural behavioral health event tentatively planned for early fall. “It’s just a broad idea right now, but I’m very excited about the partnership—it’s one that extension has never had before.” She plans on inviting speakers to discuss wellness in agriculture and highlighting agencies that work with producers. 

“Counselors need to know what’s happening with producers and, at the same time, producers need to get a sense that seeking help is okay,” she said. “Let’s bring everyone to the table and talk about how we can all help each other.”

Last year, Bjornestad gave 20 invited presentations on coping with stress for agricultural organizations in South Dakota. “We are trying to figure out which farm stressors contribute the most to depression and anxiety.” She seeks to answer questions, such as “where should we put our effort, what does that look like and how do we reach producers?”

As she talks to producers, she sees an increase in anxiety among women who are in farming. “It is concerning that the whole family is being impacted,” Bjornestad said. “We need to find innovative ways to increase access to mental health services and decrease the stigma attached to seeking help.”