Ph.D. Associate Professor
- How does the University of Nevada, Reno’s online MSW curriculum prepare students to use empirical studies and data to approach social work?
The online program uses empirical information in every course whether it is research-based or a practice course; it is required that students go to the literature and use official sources. Every course according to the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) requires that best practices are being utilized or researched. We have a concept called the practitioner-researcher model but no matter how it goes they have to research what’s the best practice.
- Describe the University’s online MSW faculty and how their experience can prepare graduates for the field.
We have a very diverse faculty and it has expanded in the last couple of years, particularly in areas of diverse backgrounds. We specifically higher people who have diverse backgrounds and this has significantly enriched what we are able to offer to students. Years ago we had a very homogeneous northern Nevada-based faculty and in the past couple of years, it has really blossomed to a more international faculty whether international in their origins or in their research focus.
- How does online MSW faculty leverage their active work and research in the classroom?I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) practitioner with a private practice and I work in the community as well as running groups. When I work in a community with a specific population I go to the research and apply that to the group I am working with and I bring all of that to the classroom. I ensure that I am using the best practices in the field. What I teach is directly from the literature, finding the best practices and specifically and teaching my students to intentionally apply those concepts to the group that they are working with. Doing that helps students prepare for their coursework, practicum, licensing exam and practice they will do after graduation.I want them to take away how to use research to inform practice and what the process is to do that; what sites do you go to, etc.
- How does the advanced generalist practice prepare graduates for new challenges in social work?
Advanced Generalist Practice teaches a pattern for how to work with any population, that’s the beauty of the program. Students are learning a pattern that can be applied to working with any population rather than a specific niche program that some students are taught. The pattern can be applied to whether you are working with children, adolescents or older adults and if you follow the pattern it works in all of those situations.
- How long have you taught in higher education? In addition to your teaching, can you provide a brief overview of your professional experience?
I’ve been teaching for over 20 years and have taught primarily social work practice courses and social work research courses – currently, I am just teaching research courses. My primary professional focus is working with people in grief and loss and end of life. I spent about 18 years in Hawaii working for hospice and home health care programs and currently, I have a private practice where I focus on grief and loss. All the clients I take are dealing with some phase of grief and loss issues.
I also work with a geriatric, psychiatric hospital-based program for older adults and run groups for them. Most of their issues have to do with grief and loss or life changes.
I, personally, see a lot of people’s issues through a lens of grief and loss. As an oversimplification, I would say that anything people are struggling with can be taken back to a grief and loss issue. For example, many people have lost parents as a child and if you take a close look it goes back to issues dealing with that initial loss. Some people have had traumas in their childhood which is also considered loss (a loss of something).
Due to my way of looking at human nature, human issues and human challenges through a lens of grief and loss I was drawn to places where services were provided in these terms. Hospice is where people who have a 6-month diagnosis or less are placed in hospice and their families are dealing with loss as well. Home health care is also a loss (i.e. a loss of function).
In my private practice, I work with clients to try and resolve the struggles they are experiencing with grief and loss. I don’t think one event drew me to it, but looking at human nature and a human situation I try to find a core place to start working with people and bring them to a current moment in a healthier way.
- What would you say are some of the positive features of the University of Nevada, Reno for prospective students?
The University, in general, is a booming area of study at Nevada, but that has not always been the case. For a long time, the university was quite stagnant. In the last five years, it has transformed to a completely different campus – it is state of the art. The University is well supplied with supportive and helpful people everywhere you turn (assistance with research, technology, etc.). In the past, those were areas that were not well supplied. The change now is that the university has identified where support was missing and they added resources to those areas. In addition, they have hired top-notch faculty with strong research agendas. Everyone in the school of social work has a strong research agenda and brings that direction to the table.
Everyone who is teaching now has taught traveled or researched international issues. They have rich experiences that can help students to understand that there is a culture in your location but there is a whole world culture that is different. To have so many people on our faculty that can speak to conditions that others experience as well as bringing the international richness of human living conditions that are different from that of northern Nevada is a big benefit.
I lived and worked in Hawaii for about 20 years. In that context, it is a very international community and an amalgamation of all different types of culture. In addition, I have spent quite a bit of time in Hong Kong and did research with a university there. My research is around the way people approach death and dying across cultures. My dissertation was on people of Japanese heritage living in Hawaii.
Dissertation: Working with Japanese and European American Family Caregivers of older adults with cancer.
- How does the online MSW program differ from the on-campus program? What are the pros and cons of both?
Because we are accredited by the CSWE the requirements need to be identical. The way that we keep it identical is through our student learning objectives. They are identical for both online and on-campus programs.
How the delivery of those learning objectives comes into play is slightly different. We take the on-ground courses and ask ourselves: how can we take this and apply a similar experience for students in the online world? I am currently teaching the third course and I’m always thinking of how to do that is to make the experience for the online students as similar as possible to the on-campus students. What students are experiencing – the outcomes are surprisingly similar to what students gain from the online and on-ground program. There is a debate in the social work community on the debate about how to teach courses online and so we come up with creative ways to bring the content to the students in a way that is similar to the best practices in the face-to-face classroom. There are things that are better online and there are others that need to be adjusted to make them as good or better.
One example of something better online is a component of the beg. Intervention classes are called SBIRT and it is an assessment and intervention tool for assessing addiction issues. It is a whole component that we have placed in our practice classes. I have had better results with the online presentation of ESPERT. In the online program, they see a video of how to do an SBIRT intervention. They see a social worker and mock client and the mock client has some kind of addiction issue and the social worker runs through the addiction issue and in the online program the students can watch it over and over until they recognize the components that need to be there. They are learning the objectives in a much more efficient way. They are encouraged to watch the video over and over until they feel competency in it, then practice with a learning partner with the class and then when they are ready they do a recording of their own intervention (grading component). Students have a strongly vested interest in mastering these communication skills and because the online gives them such flexibility they can do it over and over again to their level of success. It is harder if you have to schedule the lab and make arrangements. They are recording when they want to record and CNA review and practice and then record.
In the face-to-face class, students think they can watch it once and they should get it and be able to demonstrate it, but it doesn’t work that way. Then it is demonstrated for them in the classroom and then they have to do their own demonstration. A professor has to hand hold and it is more laborious for the student and instructor. If a student gets stuck then the class halts until that one student moves past it.
They are evaluating this part of the program since it is a federal grant to teach ESPERT and I feel the online results will far outweigh the face-to-face interactions.
Some of the differences that students need to consider are that the online program provides a more direct way to get from point A to point B about learning a specific issue or topic. Online they can look at certain content and review it again and again and it is the exact same until they get it right. Whereas, in the on-campus environment we get distracted by student comments that can throw the class in a different direction that doesn’t necessarily lead the students from A to B as directly. It doesn’t mean that dialogue isn’t valuable but it does mean you may not get there as directly.
As far as student’s deciding which way to go on-campus vs. online. Students are finding that there are more assignments in an online program and to keep up the pace can be challenging. However, if students consider how much time is spent in the online classroom vs. on-campus in the online program they can spread it out anytime that it suits their schedule and just have to keep up with what is required with the module for that week.
- How can a prospective student decide between online and on-campus? What are some factors he or she should consider?
Of course, there are some people really who really enjoy being in a classroom and having classmates that they can connect with and they really need that face-to-face camaraderie to get through a course. On the other hand, we have tried to create that same thing in the online programs. They have an online class café where they can talk about things related to the course. Like when I bring up in the café about grief and loss they can share their own grief and loss story and connect with each other in that way.
In terms of choosing between the two, one of the things that they should be prepared for with whichever they choose is to schedule themselves in terms of other life activities and time management. Online students sometimes think they can carve out less time in the online world but that is not the case. If I had any advice to give students in either program would be to make sure you have enough time in your life to fully focus and engage with what is being presented to you. A lot of work has gone into bringing you the best content possible in the online courses, but if the student is not prepared to take advantage of what is in front of them because their life is too busy they are missing out on the great programming they have signed up for but don’t have time to take advantage of.
- What is the time/personal investment for an online MSW student?
If they are in an on-campus master’s class they have 3 hours of class time during the week. That’s 3 hours they are in a classroom every single week for one class.
The ratio we talk about is for every hour in class they should prepare 2 hours outside of class to prepare for the weeks learning. If they are in a 3-hour class they should be devoting 6 hours outside of class every week so that is a total of 9 hours for one class.
The way that we geared the online program is based on 9 hours of content each week for one class. For some people, it will be that but for others, it can be more or less depending on how fast they read or how cluttered their mind is (whether they are working full-time and have children/families).
- Is the MSW faculty the same for online and on-campus classes? Or do different professors handle the two programs?Every faculty member has been tasked with teaching something on campus and something online. Also, everyone teaches in the graduate and undergraduate level. We are very stratified about where we are teaching and how we are teaching in the modalities. The University is trying to have our faculty teach in every modality so that there is a wide variety of perspective that is shared among all of our students whether they are online or on-campus or graduate or undergraduate.
- Has that made a difference in terms of your teaching style?It helps in terms of being painfully redundant in what I teach. If something is taught at undergrad in a basic way that it increases at the master’s level in terms of complexity. I like that I can tailor that and build off what is taught at the undergrad level. In the concentration classes, I can amp it up and challenge them to be at the highest place they can be to go out and work with real clients.
- Which resources are available to online students? For example, faculty office hours, student centers, etc.
- Disability center
- Writing center
- Students have a whole support team
- All Library Resources (databases, research support)
- Student Resource Center. Before they start their first term to get to know the learning management system and what the expectations for what online learning is.
- Instructors make themselves available for question/concerns by the students. I pick a time with the student’s input and holds a live session and they can bring in whatever questions or talk about whatever they want and have access to the recording. This happens weekly and I also offer individual sessions.
- Do you have any tips for online students to be successful in the online MSW program? What can online students do to stay involved and engaged in online learning?Block out specific times that are just for the course you are in. If they are in 2 courses be sure and block out those 9 hours per course and be sure it is non-interrupted time to focus on your studies.In the online courses, I put a lot of required activities and assignments up and also additional information that the student may find useful. I expect my students to really dive into other aspects of the course that will enhance their ability to do this profession and do it well. Make the time to read the other resources out there.
Stay up to date on the activities in each weekly module. By keeping up with all activities students are successful in the grade and gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to become a professional social worker. Stick with it even when it is hard to keep going and you will make it through the courses.