Ashley Brugmann’s longstanding desire to help people by listening to them led the Gretna, Nebraska, native to a rewarding and fulfilling career in the mental health field. Brugmann, 28, enrolled in Bellevue University’s 60-credit Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling (CMHC) degree program to become better at her current job and qualify for career advancement opportunities.
“Growing up, and even in school, I never really felt heard. So, I’ve always wanted to make sure that others have someone there who will actively listen and give their full attention,” said Brugmann, one of six Mental Health Co-Responders attached to the Omaha Police Department’s (OPD) Behavioral Health and Wellness Unit. All but Brugmann are licensed counselors.
A Co-Responder since May 2021, Brugmann has been embedded in OPD’s Northwest Precinct, monitoring police radio dispatch and emergency 911 channels and responding to calls that have a mental health component. Wearing civilian clothing and a large-print ID vest or jacket covering her bullet-proof vest, she arrives equipped with basic first-aid training and her professional knowledge and experience.
“I love the crisis field and working with first responders, because it’s something new every single day. You’re able to connect with people in their worst moments,” said Brugmann, who plans to complete her degree in March 2024.
Her resume so far, includes an Associate’s degree in Human Services; a Bachelor of Social Work degree; and a master’s in Criminal Justice degree (also from Bellevue University); and three-plus years as a child family and service specialist for Nebraska Child Protective Services.
Last year, Brugmann and Co-Responder Carolina Soto received OPD “Preservation of Life Ribbon” citations for de-escalating a potential suicide situation after a woman was reported standing outside the guardrail of a bridge crossing the Interstate-680 beltway in northwest Omaha. In a collaborative effort, OPD officers recruited several semitrailer drivers from the jammed Interstate traffic to move their rigs under the bridge while other officers shut down the street and on-ramps and Omaha firefighters climbed to the top of a trailer and used a ladder to rescue the distressed woman.
“Once we got the woman down off the bridge and she was safe, I was able to get with her and stay with her until we got her safely to the hospital. She was able to get connected to the appropriate resources.” Brugmann said.
This January, Brugmann and others responded to comfort distressed shoppers and employees at a west Omaha Target store shortly after a man entered the store and began firing an AR-15 rifle, sending frightened store occupants running for cover. Within minutes, the man was shot dead by an OPD officer after repeatedly refusing to put his weapon down. Brugmann commended the actions of first-responders and Target managers for their response, and said her work experiences have both complemented and affirmed what she is learning from her coursework.
The Master of Science in Clinical Counseling degree program now enrolls over 600 students, making it the University’s largest graduate program, according to Dr. Barb Daubenspeck, Program Director. Enrollment has more than doubled since 2017, when the program earned accreditation by the Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP).
More than 100 graduate students from throughout the U.S. now complete the program each year. Most pursue state licensure, often a required qualification for working as a counselor, and graduates’ job placement rate is 100 percent.
In addition to the M.S. CMHC program, Bellevue University offers several undergraduate programs in the Behavioral Sciences, including an new entry-level 16-credit Mental Health Technician Certificate program.