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Alex Cooke is a first-year graduate student pursuing a master’s degree in the Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling who also serves as the captain for UNC-Chapel Hill’s track and field team. Cooke, who is from Surry County, North Carolina, joined the track and field team five years ago. Since then, she has secured the number nine spot for hammer throw at the ACC Outdoor Track & Field Championships, setting a new personal best and ranking fifth in UNC-CH history.

Cooke’s interest in clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling grew from her time as a psychology major as an undergraduate student at UNC-CH. In her first year as a graduate student, Cooke has seen an overlap in her future career path and in athletics. Methodologists at U.S. News & World Report ranked the rehabilitation counseling master’s degree among top ten in the country.

“The whole stigma about mental health is you’re seen as a weakness,” Cooke said. “We try to reduce that stigma that athletes might have and say it’s okay to need help and need someone to help guide them through the stresses that you’re experiencing.”

As a leader on the track and field team, Cooke said she is able to use her background in psychology and what she’s learning in the classroom to mentor students as they transition from high school to college.

“There’s definitely a lot of overlap especially in the athlete population,” Cooke said. “We learn about anxiety and depression surrounding the competitive atmosphere.”

Cooke said the clinical rehabilitation and mental health counseling program has given her the opportunity to learn about various mental disorders, and she looks forward to applying what she knows to clients once she graduates.

“It’s very validating to help me see that I am in the right field and that what I’m learning in class I can use in everyday life,” Cooke said.

Cooke said she hopes to pursue a career to serve North Carolinians, much like she has served her track and field team.

“It’s really cool to work with my teammates to help them better themselves and overcome things they’re experiencing,” Cooke said.

Cooke is the recipient of a scholarship funded by The Honorable Robert Tyrone Rieves II and Ms. Cynthia Taylor Reives.

“With this scholarship, I’ll be able to attend several conferences and talks to learn more about the counseling profession,” Cooke said. “I can become a well-rounded counselor, and I cannot thank the donors enough for this opportunity.”

The Division of Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling is one of seven housed in the Department of Allied Health Sciences in the UNC School of Medicine.

-Video by Brooke Love, communications intern