HACKETTSTOWN, NJ (Warren County) — Growing up, Centenary University graduate Ray Salerno of Wayne faced some personal mental health struggles. The support they received has shaped a career goal to open a private counseling practice dedicated to adolescents and young adults.
“I’ve had some really great people in my support group, including a wonderful therapist,” explained Salerno, who graduated from Centenary on May 6 with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and a minor in theater.
“I want to provide that kind of support to other adolescents and young adults. At that age, a lot of young people are just starting to address their mental health as they move toward adulthood,” Salerno said.
While many new college students experience a bumpy transition moving onto campus, the suicide of a close family member compounded that difficulty for Salerno. Soon after arriving at Centenary, they met Associate Professor of Psychology Christine Floether, Ph.D. ’87: “I really struggled going into college. Dr. Floether has been instrumental in my growth as a student and as a person. At Centenary, classes are so small that you really get to know your professors. I made a lot of connections with people, and got to know Dr. Floether not just as a professor, but on a personal level.”
Soon, Salerno began to make friends and become involved in activities. As a first-year student, they joined the Psychology Club and they have also participated as a member of the Gender Sexuality Alliance. Salerno also worked for the Student Activities Office, where they met Director of Student Activities Jamie Weingarten ’17. “Jamie kept me sane,” Salerno said.
During their first year on campus, Salerno also discovered another passion that could make an impact on their career goals. After attending several Centenary Stage Company productions, they auditioned and won the role of Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
That experience prompted them to declare a theater minor. “I love theater and at first it was just a fun hobby,” Salerno recalled. “Now, I’ve been looking into drama therapy and psychological drama. It’s a nice way to connect my interests in psychology and theater.”
While the pandemic derailed Salerno’s plans to participate in undergraduate research, they completed an internship with the Mental Health Association of Passaic County, learning to run group therapy and write grants. That professional experience positioned Salerno to accept a position after graduation at a residential psychiatric program for people with chronic and lifelong mental illness facilitating group therapies and creating treatment plans for clients.
This fall, they will also begin a Master of Arts in Clinical and Counseling Psychology at William Paterson University, a precursor to opening a private counseling practice.
Looking back on their college years, Salerno is happy that they chose Centenary University: “At Centenary, I was able to introduce myself and who I am without any pretense. The environment here is very friendly and everyone is so nice. At Centenary, I found my family—I found my people. Now, I’m really excited about having the opportunity to help others. Centenary definitely prepared me for that.”