University Counseling Center Names New Director

Silvestro Weisner, a clinical psychologist with a breadth of experience in university counseling, says his motto is “students first.”

October 03, 2012

The George Washington University Counseling Center has named its new director, bringing on board a clinical psychologist with more than a decade of experience working on college campuses at several area universities.

Silvestro Weisner spent the last seven years as director of the counseling center at Marymount University. Previously, Dr. Weisner, who received his bachelor’s in psychology from Brown University and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Gallaudet University, worked as a staff psychologist at George Mason University’s counseling center and spent time in centers at the Catholic University of America and Gallaudet University.

Right away, Dr. Weisner said he’ll be working to gain an understanding of GW and the counseling center and keeping his ears open to learn as much as possible about his new campus and its unique qualities. One thing, Dr. Weisner said, will drive everything he does.

“Students come first,” he said. “It’s important to always keep in mind, what are the students’ mental health needs on campus and how can the center go about meeting those needs?”

Increasing the center’s visibility on campus is crucial, Dr. Weisner said. Developing relationships with other GW leaders and high-profile offices like the Center for Student Engagement will be important, and Dr. Weisner said he plans to become a well-known face on campus, ensuring students, faculty and staff  know the center is there to help.

Over the long term, Dr. Weisner wants to continue to assess and improve the center’s services, pursue accreditation from the International Association of Counseling Services and work to establish a pre-doctoral training program that would help recruit talent and retrain staff members who would serve as their mentors.

It was a training program at Catholic University that initially piqued Dr. Weisner’s interest in serving a college-aged population.

“Universities are a great environment in which to work. Learning is valued and actively pursued, and I find that to be intellectually stimulating,” he said. “And college students are in a critical period of development—they’re transitioning out of adolescence and experiencing all the emotional ups and downs that go along with that transition, like preparing for future careers, managing self-care, forming relationships, developing identity and challenging beliefs. It is fascinating and gratifying to interact with them and assist them along this journey into adulthood. So it’s important for there to be good counseling center services available for them to assist them with navigating and managing these changes.”

Dr. Weisner has experience outside of university settings as well. He worked for the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, where he conducted assessments with victims and children and adolescents accused of crimes; Fairfax County Community Mental Health Services; and the Whitman-Walker Clinic, where he served clients who were affected by HIV/AIDS. He specializes in deafness and disability and issues affecting the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning community. He’s also an active member of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors.

Senior Associate Dean of Students Mark Levine said one of Dr. Weisner’s greatest assets—beyond his breath of experience—is his ability to connect with people, a crucial quality for a counseling center director.

“You can see him working well with students, staff, faculty, parents and colleagues,” Mr. Levine said. “Dr. Weisner impressed our committee and everyone with his deep commitment to college students’ mental health and his knowledge of the complex needs students face in a competitive academic environment like GW, where academic achievement is ingrained in students from a young age. Given his wealth of insights and experience, Dr. Weisner has a strong grasp of an array of mental health issues facing students, from anxiety to suicide and everything in between. Dr. Weisner provides an important balance of outstanding clinician, strong administrator and valued campus partner—all hallmarks of his previous work experiences.”

Other George Washington community members echoed Mr. Levine.

Rodney Johnson, executive director of Parent Services, said he’s confident Dr. Weisner can serve parents who are supporting their children at GW. Rachel Krausman, a GW senior and co-president of Active Minds, said she was particularly impressed with Dr. Weisner’s “focused energy” and attentiveness with students.

“I am definitely encouraged by his enthusiasm about and commitment to the student voices at GW regarding the UCC, mental health stigma, stress and other issues on campus,” she said.

Imran Riaz, assistant director of outreach and prevention at UCC, agreed.

“Dr. Weisner has a clear commitment and passion for serving college students,” Dr. Riaz said. “He brings extensive experience meeting the unique challenges that a college counseling center faces on a day-to-day basis.”

To bring on Dr. Weisner, a committee of university leaders formed, including: Mr. Levine; Mr. Johnson; Peter Konwerski, senior associate provost and dean of student affairs; Renee DeVigne, associate dean for academic development at the Law School; Professor of Psychology George Howe; Betsy Wanger, associate general counsel; and Isabel Goldenberg, medical director of Student Health Service. Spelman and Johnson, a nationally known higher education search firm, also assisted. The team solicited feedback from the university community, including academic experts, student leaders, GW parents and UCC’s clinical and administrative staff.

Led by Mr. Levine, the UCC has also undergone a comprehensive review that brought recommendations to enhance the center’s clinical care and training, and improve education and prevention programs.

“These efforts helped the search committee structure the process to find a leader with the skills, compassion and competence that Dr. Weisner brings to GW,” Dr. Konwerski said.

Dr. Konwerski added he is also thankful for Mr. Levine’s service in making counseling at GW more accessible and affordable through free one-on-one sessions and eliminating group counseling fees, expanding mental health outreach and successfully leading the UCC staff through a time of transition.

A Massachusetts native, Dr. Weisner is married and has an 8-month-old daughter. When his work schedule allows, he’s a theater junkie and enjoys attending, performing and directing shows.

It was on a different type of stage that Dr. Weisner achieved his hour of fame though—as a contestant on “Jeopardy!” when he appeared on two episodes.

“Being on ‘Jeopardy!’ was the experience of a lifetime for me,” he said.