Paula Keeton, Ph.D., recently joined UNC Charlotte as director of the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS), and she believes in the power of community.
With 25 years of experience providing mental health services in college and university settings, Keeton now oversees the development, implementation and administration of clinical, outreach and training services for CAPS.
During her career, Keeton has witnessed the shift in mental health offerings on campuses across the country.
“Although there is still more to be done, the work that has been done in the last 20 years has been focused on stigma reduction,” Keeton explained. “As a culture, we’ve become more diverse, and many (students) are still learning how to navigate how they fit into this world. The good thing is that more people are willing to talk about it now.”
A graduate of Indiana’s Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College, Keeton majored in theology. After six years of field experience working with at-risk youth, she moved to state employment while completing a master’s degree in agency counseling.
Afterward, Keeton earned a doctorate in counseling psychology from Indiana State University and completed a postdoctoral internship at the University of Iowa Counseling Center.
She would stay at the University of Iowa for the next 22 years, the last 10 as associate director. While at Iowa, Keeton worked with students on issues regarding relationship building, adjustment to college, recovering from trauma and exploring identity.
At UNC Charlotte, Keeton hopes to encourage Niner Nation members to look out for one another and build a sense of community across the campus.
“We need to build skills where we can sit and listen with one another in support, to let one another know that things will be OK,” she said.
As a first-generation college student, Keeton understands the difficulty students may face in navigating the college environment successfully. Her father, a truck driver, and mother, a clerical worker, supported her to the best of their abilities while she pursued her education. However, she remembers the courage it took to ask a lot of questions and deal with imposter syndrome, characterized as a psychological pattern in which one doubts one's accomplishments.
“As faculty and staff, we should take the time to actively listen to students,” Keeton said. “Often, we’re formulating what we’re going to say next as opposed to truly hearing one another.”
Keeton said CAPS is a place where UNC Charlotte students can feel connected and feel a sense of purpose. She also hopes that her work at CAPS will foster a sense of community within the center that will transcend beyond the University.
“I want CAPS to be a part of the mission where Niner Nation cares; I want students to know we are here for them.”
Although she is proud to be a new member of Niner Nation, Keaton still finds herself cheering for the University of Iowa Hawkeye football team. In the off-season, she is a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.