Counseling Center founder leaves legacy of student mental health support

Counseling Center founder leaves legacy of student mental health support
Friday, December 10, 2021

Ronald “Sam” Simono, founding director of the UNC Charlotte Counseling Center — now the Center for Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) — advanced student mental health care through professional practice and as a professor in the Department of Psychology for 37 years, until his retirement in 2003. He died Dec. 6 at age 84. 

“Sam was the consummate psychologist, providing service to students, staff and campus in general and having the vision needed to create and grow CAPS into an important and necessary resource on our campus,” said Terri Rhodes, Ph.D., senior associate director with CAPS.  “He was a wonderful mentor to staff and students and modeled truly compassionate, student-centered, effective service. He was the foundational root to what CAPS is today and I was honored to have been able to work and learn alongside him.” 

Simono completed an undergraduate degree in biology from St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin. He entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where he earned a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. Afterward, he accepted a position at Duke University where he served as a senior counselor and assistant professor. 

In 1967, Bonnie Cone, then vice chancellor for student affairs and community relations, approached Simono to leave Duke University and become the founding director of the UNC Charlotte Counseling Center. The two-person department operated from the Reese Building (now King). After a few years, the center moved to the ground floor of Atkins Library and later to the Atkins annex. In 2017, the center relocated to the Christine F. Price Center building.

Under Simono’s leadership, the Counseling Center grew to become a comprehensive department providing high-quality psychological services to UNC Charlotte students. The center also started a training program to prepare future mental health professionals. The doctoral internship program was accredited by the American Psychological Association in 2000.

Simono, who held an academic rank in the Department of Psychology, was named a UNC Charlotte Employee of the Year in 1988. Upon retirement, Simono was awarded the rank of professor emeritus in psychology. He was active in the profession working at Novant as a long-standing psychologist in the cardiac rehabilitation program.  

CAPS continues to build on the mental health support foundation Simono established.  With its staff of psychologists and social workers  as well as graduate assistants in psychology and social work, doctoral interns and postdoctoral fellows in psychology, CAPS continues to grow and adapt to meet the diverse counseling and mental health needs of the University’s nearly 30,000 students. 

Read Simono's obituary on the James Funeral Home website.

Photo, left to right, Susan Havanek, David Spano, Sam Simono, Karen Simono, Rebecca MacNair-Semands and Terri Rhodes at the 2018 dedication of a conference room honoring Simono’s contributions to UNC Charlotte.