College of Education and Human Development - George Mason University
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Fred Bemak leaving major impact on Counseling and Development program that will be felt after his retirement

August 22, 2019

By Greg Sullivan

Fred Bemak, a longtime professor in George Mason’s College of Education and Human Development’s Counseling and Development program and founder of Counselors Without Borders, is getting set to retire in early 2020.

Stepping away fully would prove difficult with all that Bemak still has going on professionally and given what he’s invested in his time on campus since arriving in 2000. So he’ll still be involved.

Bemak expects to maintain some presence on campus, where his non-profit, Counselors Without Borders, will continue to be housed, and he also will stay in touch with department colleagues and others at Mason.

“We’ve had a very, very close department. We collaborate together. We built the program almost from scratch,” Bemak said. “We’ve added people who are committed to our mission—social justice advocacy and multiculturalism, and would hire people along those lines. We’ve also attracted students who were attracted to that mission.”

Many of these same beloved colleagues and alumni, even those who graduated back around the time Bemak first arrived on the Mason campus along with wife and research partner Rita Chi-Ying Chung almost 20 years ago, recently celebrated the pair’s retirement at a joint gathering. “Yes, it’s a kind of family,” said Bemak with a laugh.

Chung is also retiring in early 2020 following her own celebrated career at Mason, where she also served as a professor in the Counseling and Development program.

Bemak over the years has published extensively in the fields of cross-cultural and multicultural psychology and counseling, working with at-risk youth, group counseling, transforming school counseling, and immigrant and refugee mental health and adjustment. He’s also co-authored several books, including one of his more recent titles, Social Justice Counseling: The Next Steps Beyond Multiculturalism, written with Chung.

Bemak, who completed his doctoral studies at the University of Massachusetts, also founded Counselors Without Borders, which has taken teams to provide training, consultation, and counseling following the San Diego Wildfires, Hurricane Katrina on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, and Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico two years ago. Bemak said he’s very pleased the organization will continue in its work with the support of Mason.

“The university has been tremendous in supporting Counselors Without Borders,” he said. “They’ve supported it, they’ve funded it, they’ve given the greenlight, and been flexible with schedules. The university has given 100 percent support for us to go out and do humanitarian work in the world.”

Bemak hasn’t slowed down in his work a bit in recent years. Along with his work with groups like Counselors Without Borders, he co-edited an anthology in 2018 on achieving professional excellence for psychologists and counselors.

Earlier this year, he spoke at a conference in Turkey on challenges facing Syrian refugee children. It was one of countless times over the years his academic work has taken him overseas.

One of many highlights among his professional accomplishments includes being selected to receive a 2018 Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV). The award honors top faculty members across disciplines and across both public and private institutions in the state. Chung also received the honor in 2013.

Bemak and Chung, who met at a conference at Harvard University after being familiar with each other’s research and humanitarian work for years, eventually married in 1996 and worked together at Ohio State University before coming to Mason together to build up its Counseling and Development program.

At the time the two chose Mason, they each had several options nationally, Bemak said. Looking back, he said he couldn’t be happier with the decision to make Mason home.

“It’s been an incredible time,” Bemak said. “Our intent was to build a community, and we feel like we’ve tremendously succeeded in that. We’ve had support from the Mason administration, and that’s been great. It’s been a great journey.”