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NMSU School of Social Work hosts workforce development summit

New Mexico State University?s School of Social Work prepares social workers for the reality of possible complexities in their chosen profession. Social workers are often advocates for children or chronically ill patients.

Woman (left) speaks into a microphone while woman (right) looks on.
Behavioral Health Presbyterian Healthcare Executive Director Elizabeth M. Lacouture (left) speaks as a member of the panel on Social Work and the Expanded Medicaid Era at New Mexico State University?s Social Work Education Summit, April 4, while New Mexico Medicaid Operations and Centennial Care CEO for Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Mexico Sharon Huerta (right) looks on. (NMSU photo by Tiffany Acosta)

To examine the common interests and concerns of educators, NMSU hosted the first-ever Social Work Education Summit: Workforce Development in Changing Times April 4.

?Our students will eventually become practitioners with enormous responsibilities for other people?s lives,? said Tina Hancock, NMSU School of Social Work director. ?I think the biggest challenge is to make our curriculum relevant to what they will encounter in the real world.

?We invited agencies that are frequent employers of our graduates to give us input on what is important to them in terms of hiring our graduates,? she said. ?The goal of the summit was two fold. First to give programs of social work in the state and border region an opportunity to come together for historically the first time ever and to discuss mutual interests. Secondly, to allow a venue for an exchange between those schools and agencies that employ our graduates.?

Representatives from Eastern New Mexico University, Western New Mexico University, New Mexico Highlands University and the University of Texas at El Paso attended the summit.

?One of the things I asked of our schools of social work, and I really challenged them to provide more real-life experience for our students so they are not startled by what they encounter,? said Yolanda Berumen-Deines, Cabinet Secretary for the New Mexico Children, Youth and Families Department. ?When you are safely encased in an academic setting, you don?t have a real taste of what life is like out in the real world. The more we can engage them in internships and field placements that allow them to have a better sense of the groups of people that they will be dealing with, the better they will be when they join the workforce.?

Hancock said a common interest for the universities is how they can work together to maximize their resources. She said the schools discussed how collaborations could help universities obtain additional research funds.

?I think it is very exciting that we realized the importance of collaborating between the agencies that provide employment for these students and the schools that prepare the students for that employment,? Berumen-Deines said. ?Rather than functioning in our own little silos we can make it a real-life experience for our students, and they will be better prepared to enter the workforce.?

The event included presentations from Wanda Whittlesey-Jerome, NMSU associate professor at the Albuquerque Center, on workforce trends and Berumen-Deines on workforce development and child protective services. A panel discussion on social work and the expanded Medicaid era with representatives from regional health care organizations also presented information.

NMSU?s Southern Area Health Education Center and El Paso Electric sponsored the summit, which allowed professionals to receive continuing education units free of charge.