Social work program building at UTPB

·9 min read

Dec. 3—University of Texas Permian Basin student Leticia Haro said what drew her to study social work is that it matches her values of striving for social justice, human rights and human dignity.

Haro, who will graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in social work, said she has been interested in the field from a young age. Haro tried nursing and psychology, but feels she has found her niche.

After completing her bachelor's degree, Haro plans to earn a master's degree in clinical social work and work in mental health before returning to UTPB to work as an educator.

A single mother of three children, one of whom is grown, Haro is from Big Spring. She has lived in Odessa for more than 10 years.

Along with mental health, there are a variety of areas social workers can go into from hospitals to criminal justice.

"... If there's a human being in the mix ... there can be a social worker, so it is a pretty broad area of practice," said Sam Terrazas, academic chair and professor of social work.

Terrazas said the values of social work drive its practice.

"... We're very much rooted in social justice kinds of issues, which include ... making sure people have their basic needs met ...," Terrazas said.

Social workers can be found in sports, working for the FBI in forensics, or in psychotherapy, for example.

"In reality, social workers provide most of the psychotherapy in the United States when you look at it statistically for the psychologist ... more than psychiatrist ... so that's a misnomer as well. As an undergraduate, you do the kinds of things related more to case management. I don't want to put that in a box, but that's what it looks like. But as a master's degree social worker, you can do things like clinical social work, but also administration, research, policy, advocacy, community organizing. It really branches out into other kinds of services for people that may be more specialized ...," Terrazas said.

Bachelor of social work students are trained to be generalist practitioners and someone with a master's in social work has a wider range of specializations, he added.

UTPB's social work program currently has a little more than 30 students, but it is growing.

"We're a small program, but we are steadily growing," Terrazas said.

Director of Field Education Samantha Perales said she and Terrazas are trying to get the word out that social workers don't just handle child welfare issues or make referrals.

A social work degree opens a wide range of possibilities.

"... One of our values is that all people have dignity and worth, so we teach our students that as a way of understanding that interpersonal context when they work with others," Terrazas said.

Perales said they are working to provide students with interdisciplinary work.

"Because, of course, as Sam mentioned, we're going to be anywhere that there's humans. Sometimes we think of those settings as being a little atypical for a social worker and so it's really important that we expose the students to those possibilities of things like interdisciplinary teams and looking holistically at the individual," Perales said.

Terrazas said social workers can help people with the mental health and wellness aspects of postpartum depression and helping new fathers navigate that role.

As part of the program, students do field practicums working in areas from intimate partner violence to mental health and substance abuse.

Haro works with First 5 Permian Basin's Parents as Teachers program.

"They offer home visiting services for families and it's focused on early education for children, ages 2 to 5 years old. But there's also the HIPPY program, which is kindergarten readiness for toddlers. And they have the Nurse Family Partnership. ... That helps first-time moms. They're assigned a registered nurse that helps guide them through the process, their pregnancy and after having their child up to the age of 2 years old," Haro said.

Terrazas said all fourth-year students have to do an average of 16 hours a week in actual practice at an agency.

"... Rather than the traditional internship, she's not stapling papers, or whatever, she actually has to practice and actually do social work within that agency," Terrazas said. "Our social work just like other health or applied disciplines is competency based. So Leticia gets to be assessed on nine different competencies of practice. In the mid-term, Samantha goes out and says, 'Hey, how's Leticia doing,' but not just generally. She looks at those nine competencies and her supervisor has to say, 'Yes, Leticia to a degree and if she's not, which she is; she's one of our top students.' But if she's not able to do that, then technically she cannot finish our program, just like any other applied profession," Terrazas said.

He added that social work is guided by ethics, values and competencies.

Perales oversees seniors in the final year of their practicum.

Perales said she meets with the students if they have met a certain amount of their degree.

"If they've met their practice courses, then we can put them into the field practicum placement. I will then work with the student on interest, as far as what ... they're interested in doing with their social work degree. And then we will go through the avenues of community agencies (and) locating social workers that are already in practice that can supervise our students while they're in this practicum year. My job really is to ensure that the students have this connection between what they've learned from us through the program on this theoretical approach, or in these practice courses, into applied practice out in the community. And so I will work with them and work with their agencies to make sure that these competencies that they've learned with us are translating well into what client interaction looks like," Perales said.

Perales said this is her first year as director of field education. One of the things she is enjoying is helping students figure out what their post graduation looks like whether it's graduate school, talking to recruiters or emphasizing the importance of getting a social work license.

"... That is also something that we are trying to ... get out in the community is that we are a protected profession. We have a licensure for practice and it's important that I expose that and we get the students prepared for holding a license to practice in the state of Texas," Perales said.

Licenses are obtained through the Texas Department of State Health Services.

There also are master's level licenses, for Licensed Clinical Social Workers. Terrazas said this allows them to work in a private practice or hang out their own shingle.

Terrazas said the program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, which drives the competencies and shows that graduates are ready to practice.

The licensure part says the state now recognizes that you are ready to practice. Students take a national test, but every state has different licensure requirements.

Haro said she has not started studying for the exam yet, but Perales said Haro will undergo a "crash course" in the spring semester.

Haro said applying her academic experience to the real world has been enjoyable.

"... I feel like Ms. Perales has really prepared us. ...," Haro said.

Haro said she has noticed that Terrazas' approach has been innovative and creative and she feels like there's more of a connection between faculty and students.

Terrazas said he feels that connection is important "because we are professional, so there's also a mentorship aspect of it."

He added that Haro is an outstanding student.

"... Leticia and I have talked about graduate school. We've talked about doctoral studies. We've talked about what the profession looks like for her down the road, just like Samantha has in practice. So that relationship and those conversations are really important beyond the academics ...," Terrazas added.

Generally speaking, he said a lot of the students are first-generation college students, so they don't think about going to graduate school and may have never considered it. This makes that educator-student connection even more important.

"... Samantha and I have worked really, really hard with changing the culture of our department to one where students understand that we are here for them academically, but also to prepare them for the professional social work ...," Terrazas said.

Haro, who has a 20 year old, a 13 year old and a 4 year old, has to juggle her life along with school work.

She said she is able to do so because she has a lot of family support.

"(I've) got both of my parents nearby and my siblings, as well. ... Without that, I don't think I would be successful," Haro said.

To further bolster student training, the department has set up a family services simulation laboratory.

The idea is to help students learn how to practice social work in a "quasi-real environment."

"... We will run students through this, just like they do in nursing and we'll give them certain scenarios ...," Terrazas said.

"... We prepare the simulation; we give people their roles and the student has to come in and be able to accurately and properly intervene with alleged child abuse. ... They are mandated reporters, so that's something they have to do," Terrazas said.

"This is really the way to prepare practitioners for the field and the profession, because it gives them the opportunity to mess up," he added.

So Terrazas can look at how things are going and stop it. That can't be done in the field.

"It takes this program to the next level because we believe our clients deserve ... the most qualified, most competent social workers that we can prepare for the profession," he said.

The program also has a virtual presence technology, which can be used for clients in rural settings.

"Our Dean, Dr. (Donna) Beuk, funded us to buy this device over here. We're using it to train our students to use virtual presence technology in contexts where they can't be. ... It's basically telemedicine, but using a robot ...," Terrazas said.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting