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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU receives federal grant to promote public health social work degree

New Mexico State University’s College of Health and Social Services has established an innovative project focused on the recruitment of students who reflect the cultural/ethnic and geographic diversity of communities across New Mexico and the United States southern border region.

Three women at a table, one with NMSU shirt
New Mexico State University Masters of Social Work student Ashley Bellon, left, listens to Anna Nelson, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, center, and Sue Forster-Cox, professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, explain the public health social work dual master's degree program. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

Social work and public health faculty members are collaborating on the Effective Move in Enhancing Leadership in Public Health Social Work Education project to improve the college’s dual master’s degree program.

NMSU has received a $300,000 federal grant from the Health Resource Service Administration program within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement the project.

“The joint program that provides students an opportunity to complete degrees in both public health and social work is one of our signature programs,” said CHSS Dean Donna Wagner. “Faculty open many doors for students through the integration of public health and social work.”

To date, 20 people have graduated with dual master’s degrees in public health and social work since its inception at NMSU in 2006. Currently, 13 people are enrolled in the program.

“This is a very rigorous graduate program, but the benefits of achieving the dual degree are great for both the graduate’s employability and their contribution to the organization where they are hired,” said Sue Forster-Cox, professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences.

In addition to the required course credits for each master’s degree, the student has over a thousand hours of boots-on-the-ground experience from their social work internship and public health practicum.

“The new funding will ensure that this innovative program continues to serve students in Las Cruces as well as Albuquerque – our satellite campus,” Wagner said. “Everyone benefits from the work of these faculty members and the students who will be completing the program and taking their knowledge and skills into a community with many needs.”

The grant money will be divided between student funding and curriculum development.

“This is a unique grant because almost half of the funds goes to help the individual students,” said Anna Nelson, NMSU assistant professor in the School of Social Work. “Members of the cohorts graduating in May 2018 and May 2019 will receive stipends and support for attending conferences.”

The remainder of the funding will be used to promote the public health social work profession at the local and national level.

“One of the challenges our students experience is that the dual degree program feels like two distinct programs, because the faculty may not understand how to integrate the course information effectively, or the internship or practicum placements are not integrated,” Nelson said.

A series of Lunch and Learn presentations are being planned to facilitate faculty development to include the standards and core competencies of the public health social work profession as its own field of practice.

The faculty are developing a capstone course for the dual graduate programs that will combine all aspects of the public health social work profession in an interactive class for the students.

“During the Enhancing Leadership in Public Health Social Work course students will actually have a place to truly integrate the skills they have learned during the dual program,” Nelson said. “We hope the course will produce a community impact project where the students will apply everything they have learned through their entire master’s degrees work.”

Communication about the dual degree program is not just an internal issue, Forster-Cox said. “There are 42 universities across the nation offering the public health social work degree, but there is little communications between the universities.”

Funding from the grant will support the creation of a National Learning Collaborative among the 42 institutions.

“There is a special section in the American Public Health Association where public health social work professionals meet every year at the national conference, but not everyone can afford to go to the conference,” Forster-Cox said. “We want to bring everybody together virtually to talk amongst ourselves, share lessons learned, discuss challenges.”

The grant funders indicated this project was one of the most exciting things they read in NMSU’s proposal.

“This will be a repository of best practices, lessons learned and, maybe, case studies provided by the various programs across the nation,” Nelson said. “We will also be taking a look at the existing public health social work compliances nationally to see if they are still relevant or if they need to be improved.”