Main Content:

Established to honor the memory of Nancy L. Oyler who best exemplified an enduring commitment to excellence of the Rehabilitation Counseling profession in service to persons with disabilities, the Nancy L. Oyler Student Award is designed to support and encourage graduate level training and clinical excellence in Rehabilitation Counseling.  

A maximum of three scholarships per year will be awarded. Students who compete successfully for this award will receive a maximum annual scholarship award of $10,000.

All applicants to the Counseling Program are eligible and encouraged to apply for this award. Students may re-apply for the award for a second year of support.

Awardees must be accepted into the Counseling Program and enrolled as a full-time student.

Application Deadline: Extended to April 30th

The application process involves submission of an application and a 750-word (maximum) statement, written by the candidate, outlining the goals the applicant expects to achieve as a rehabilitation counseling professional and how the student plans to impact the profession and/or service to persons with disabilities. Specifically, the applicant should outline plans for advocating for people with disabilities in the greater Pittsburgh community (i.e. through professional organizations or other methods). This may include plans for clinical practicum and internship placements, or employment post-graduation that reflect the applicant’s potential to impact the profession of rehabilitation counseling and the individuals with disabilities served by the profession.

Applications and statements should be emailed to Melanie Cherry ( by the deadline of April 30 2024. A selection committee consisting of full-time Counseling faculty members will determine the successful student awardees who will be notified of the award prior to the academic year of support.


2023 Awardees

Gerret George:

Picture of Gerret George

Gerret E. George is an honors graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s Psychology program. While earning his Bachelor of Philosophy in Psychology degree, Gerret designed and conducted research, and wrote and defended his thesis, “The Conceptualization of Grammatical Number.” The data was published in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. Gerret is proud to begin his master's degree with the University of Pittsburgh’s clinical mental health counseling program. He hopes to continue research in trauma. Gerret currently works as a teacher-counselor for Passavant Memorial Homes, teaching life skills to children with significant mental and emotional stressors. Through Gerret’s work, he understands the compounded effects of trauma with intellectual and/or developmental disability. He hopes to explore new ways of administering proven therapies to non-typical populations, specifically in trauma recovery. Gerret plans to expand intergenerational trauma research while earning his PhD.

"As a clinical mental health counseling master’s student, I hope to become an even more effective advocate for individuals with profound disabilities. Thanks to your support, empowered with advanced education, skills, and confidence, I will be better equipped to support my clients so that they become independent, and live their lives more fully. I am particularly interested in developing new ways to apply proven therapies to populations that may not be able to receive them due to the limitations of current applications of treatment. After graduating, I plan on becoming a certified rehabilitation counselor as well as a licensed professional counselor while pursuing a PhD. This award helps relieve my financial burden and allows me to focus my attention on school. Receiving the Nancy L. Oyler Student Award in Counseling comes with a feeling of gravitas. I feel an important responsibility to do well and pay it forward in the community. I hope to follow in the monumental footprints left by Mrs. Oyler by helping people with disabilities live high-quality lives full of dignity and joy. Thank you again for this unbelievable investment of kindness and opportunity."

Kelisa Hysenbegasi

Picture of Kelisa

Kelisa Hysenbegasi is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh’s psychology and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies programs. Her focus was on sexual violence prevention and worked at Pitt's Title IX office as a SAFE peer educator, where she taught students how to support survivors and intervene in potentially harmful situations. Due to her background in sexual violence prevention, she became an advisory board member for a research project focused on hypothetical bystander bias due to implicit racial biases. She spent her undergraduate career wanting to understand more about how societal marginalization affected individuals throughout their lives.

Currently, she is employed as a peer specialist at Resolve Crisis Services, where she provides vital support to individuals during their most vulnerable moments in mental health crises. Her work has given her a profound understanding of the struggles that individuals with mental health disorders endure throughout their lives. She also observed that individuals with physical and developmental disabilities often face unique challenges and may not always receive the care and attention they truly deserve within mental health spaces.

With a passion for improving the quality of care and support for individuals with disabilities in mental health settings, she was driven to seek further education in the clinical mental health counseling program. Her belief is that by gaining specialized knowledge and skills in this field, she can play a pivotal role in effecting positive change.

"I want to sincerely thank the Oyler family for this scholarship. Your commitment to
helping me achieve my academic goals is a tremendous source of motivation,
and a testament to your dedication for wanting to make a positive impact in the lives
of students like me. I am excited to continue my journey in this program and hope to
become as impactful as Nancy L. Oyler was during her life. Once again, thank
you from the bottom of my heart for your kindness and generosity."

2022 Awardees

Janaya Carlisle:

Choosing Pitt: 

I am from New Kensington, PA, and I studied psychology and anthropology as an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh. I initially chose Pitt since my brother attended Pitt-Greensburg and enjoyed his time there. I was excited when I was accepted to Pitt and was able to move to Oakland. It means a lot to me to finish my studies here. On campus, I discovered several things that I enjoyed and disliked during my undergraduate studies. Through my education, I began to recognize how institutional and systematic impediments prevent people from having the opportunities that I did. This realization began my desire to want to help people that are affected by unjust systems.

Enjoying my time here:

I'm enjoying our Cultural Consideration in Counseling course, especially the investigation of ethnicities and how significant culture is in the field of counseling. All of my current classes are excellent in their own right, but I believe that this culture course is crucial. Coming into graduate school, I was concerned that my feelings and emphasis on cultural competency would not be reproduced in the educational setting. Surprisingly, there is a lot of emphasis on culture and ethnicity, and I am still learning about things that I believe are vital and essential to working with individuals. I'm now looking for practicum and internship opportunities, and I'd like to work in a setting that exposes me to a varied group of clients so that I may practice cultural mindfulness in my professional life sooner rather than later.

Accomplishments and Activities:

I volunteered in the CARE (Child Affect Regulation & Expression) Lab during my undergraduate studies at Pitt, where I gained firsthand clinical experience. This experience occurred during my senior year and was one of the most enjoyable aspects of my academic career. It was also the driving force behind my decision to pursue counseling rather than clinical employment. Being in the lab was enlightening, and I appreciated the tasks, but I also recognized that it's in my nature to prefer hands-on assistance to research. I wanted to affect actual change in people, and in order to do so, you have to be there with them in ways that being in a lab does not allow. But I will be eternally grateful for that opportunity because it helped me figure out what I wanted to achieve in life.

Post Graduation:

My objectives after graduation are to work with families in locations where mental health resources are scarce. I am learning valuable information about diversity and how to handle challenges with diverse populations in a culturally competent way through the curriculum here at Pitt. I cherish my education at Pitt and am glad to report that much of what I am learning in my classes, even outside of the required skills, I see myself using in the long run.

"I want to express my gratitude to the Oyler family for their generous donation. Their assistance has reduced my anxiety and stress about the financial constraints of furthering my studies. The award has allowed me to focus on my academics rather than the financial part of college, which has improved my time at Pitt greatly. Thank you again!"

Christina Murzynski:

Choosing Pitt:

I am currently a graduate student in the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling program, which I began in fall 2022. I majored in psychology and obtained a certificate in child development at Penn State Erie, the Behrend college, where I was also active in campus life as the treasurer of Psi Chi and as the lead student coordinator for the Susan Hirt Hagen CORE Mentor Project. Upon graduating in 2018, I was employed as a research study coordinator in Dr. Brian Reiser's learning science lab at Northwestern University, where I examined teacher learning in classrooms adopting an NGSS-aligned K-12 science curriculum. Looking towards the future, I am enthusiastic about counseling disabled young people and advocating for the ways in which they can be best supported by their teachers and institutions in pursuit of their education. I am deeply excited about continuing my education at Pitt, which I chose for the rigor of its program and its affiliation with a robust local health care system.

Enjoying my time here:

In my Counseling Skills and Techniques course, there is time set aside in each class for students to go into empty rooms and apply some of the therapeutic tactics we just learned in the lecture through a mock session. These are as helpful as they are clumsy what marks their usefulness is what peers say that you need to work on for similar, graded assignments. One session in late September, I assumed that my turn was going as my practices tend to: good energy, if clunky. However, when the session concluded, both my "client" and our observer had the same praise: "you really sound like a counselor!" I was shocked before I realized how much preparation had culminated in this moment. I found that this first real success made me want to learn, practice, and try harder to achieve such professionalism more often. Emboldened by this crossroads of seeing my studies applied to help others, I expect that I will remember this as I prepare to do more of the same as a counselor.

Accomplishments & Activities:

Outside of my classes, I am also interning at a local counseling center, Untethered Therapy. This has been a great experience and provided me with the additional training I need to become a holistic and client-centered counselor.

Post Graduation:

After graduation, I'm hoping to stay in Pennsylvania to gain more structured, clinical experience with intellectually disabled populations in positions that emphasize intervention and treatment plans. This, along with my courses at Pitt, are the baseline with which I hope to inform policy and treatment in special education settings, specifically within school districts such as Pittsburgh Public Schools, representing the cornerstone of education and youth empowerment that my career has been made up of so far.

"Being an Olyer scholarship recipient means being assisted by past rehabilitation counselors in the advancement of the practices and advocacy that will support persons with disabilities in the future. I am deeply grateful for the trust placed in myself as a student through this award. In the future, I hope to use my education and experience to scaffold young students with disabilities in the pursuit of their own education. Ideally, the work I could contribute to the greater community would make Pittsburgh schools a national representation of best practices where students with disabilities can thrive socially and academically while being well-supported by their teachers and administrators."


Previous Awardees:

Jackilyn Garces:

"“¡No te rindas, no dejes de estudiar!” ("Don't give up, don't stop studying!") my mother would say as she emphasized the importance of pursuing a higher education. Moving away to pursue my master’s degree in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling has been a challenging yet rewarding experience as a first-generation graduate student. Throughout my studies, I realized that there’s many Latinx individuals in Pittsburgh that face challenges when seeking mental health services and that there is a great need for Latinx mental health counselors in federal spaces. This award will propel me forward in achieving my educational and professional goals as a Rehabilitation Counselor within the VA system and relieve the financial burden as a graduate student. This has been my first scholarship award as a graduate student, and I will never forget the Oyler’s generosity. On behalf of all the students working to overcome financial difficulties to achieve their dreams, I would like to the Oylers for all that they’re doing."

Choosing Pitt:

On August 2021, I headed off to the University of Pittsburgh as a first-generation graduate student proudly staking claim to my Latinx heritage. Being born and raised in the United States while enmeshing in my Colombian culture taught me to toggle between speaking English and Spanish and pursue a higher education. My mother always stressed the importance of attaining a higher education, which is why I completed my undergraduate studies at Florida International University. My involvement in the Women's Center at Florida International University provided me with opportunities to facilitate gender-equity programs for Latinx women. As part of a student-led committee called La Colectiva, I organized monthly discussions designed to provide community and conversation within their collegiate experiences. Through this experience, I discovered a passion for mental health advocacy which led me to pursue a master's degree at the University of Pittsburgh. I always like to say that I didn't choose Pitt; Pitt chose me. When you're in a place like Pitt, where faculty are supporting your goals, it's hard not to feel like you're meant to be there.

Enjoying my time here:

This semester has been hugely important for my work with veterans. I've learned the importance of case conceptualization, substance use, and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in working with veterans who have PTSD or are struggling with substance abuse.

I was also lucky enough to work on Dr. Eric Meyer's research project at the Pitt Center for Emergency Responder Wellness. This research project is to provide counseling services to promote wellness at no cost to local emergency responders (police, fire, EMS, paramedics, and dispatchers).

One thing that stood out to me about this program was how well-rounded it was I got exposure not only to different types of counseling approaches but also other aspects of mental health care, such as medication management, group therapy facilitation, and case management. We've also had guest speakers from different fields talk about their experiences in pursuing private practice.

Accomplishments & Activities:

I've been given the opportunity to intern at the VA, participate in Dr. Meyer's research project with first responders, and attend professional development courses through the Pennsylvania Counseling Association conference. I was also invited to share my collegiate experience, which has been featured in two SHRS articles. Being the only Latina in my cohort has afforded me the opportunity to share my cultural experiences with others and learn more about how they relate to mental health, my professional identity, and my student life. My experience at Pitt has fostered an identity for myself that I otherwise would not have cultivated back home.

Post Graduation:

After graduation, I plan to return home and work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I will pursue my certification in cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy, trauma counseling, and other modalities. I would like to continue developing my skills in art therapy and incorporate expressive arts into my clinical work. In the long term, I hope to establish a private practice where I can serve veterans using art therapy as their primary form of treatment.

MeLoni Griffin:

Profile: I completed my undergraduate degree at Clark Atlanta University. I chose the counseling profession as my area of study because I have for mental health and advocacy. I chose to attend the University of Pittsburgh because the counseling program stood out to me the most. The curriculum, values, and the Pittsburgh area all seemed very interesting to me. My two favorite classes were Family and Couples Counseling as well as Human Development. I also have been enjoying my internship at UPMC Magee-Women's Hospital, working in the maternal mental health field has been amazing. I received the Nancy L. Oyler Student Award in Counseling last year and I am so grateful to have received it again this year. I am currently conducting research and getting counseling training under Dr. Eric Meyer. I have been able to do this through the Pitt Center for Emergency Responder Wellness research project. My volunteer opportunities have been through my organization, the Pan-African Graduate and Professional Student Association, where I serve as vice president of external affairs. My plans after graduation include moving to Atlanta, GA, where I will pursue a career in the nonprofit sector or case management. I plan to stay in this field until I start my process of gaining licensure as a professional counselor. My long-term goals are to open up my own wellness center/private practice, become a licensed professional counselor, and eventually obtain my PhD in clinical psychology. My Pitt education will help me achieve these goals by providing me with new and great experiences in the mental health field through my program.

"Receiving the Oyler scholarship not just once but twice means so much to me. It means that my hard work is paying off and that I am in the counseling program for a reason. Receiving the award empowers me to continue to create a positive impact in the community and in my profession. It pushes me to continue to be the best me that I can and to inspire others to go after their passion as well. It is an honor to receive this award and I would encourage future and prospective students to also apply because it has been a major help during my graduate studies."