The new master's degree program is the only such program in the Rio Grande Valley and is aimed at developing professional social workers.
"Social workers are broad-based professional helpers," said Dr. James P. Mace, chair of the Department of Social Work. "Students will be prepared to help people resolve their problems in social functioning and social relationships. They also will promote the personal and social welfare and well-being of individuals, families, groups and communities and advance social services and social policies that are equitable, efficient and effective in aiding people in need.
"In addition, the program will prepare professional social workers who are competent to serve minority, bicultural, binational and bilingual populations in Texas and elsewhere in the United States," he said.
The new Master of Science in Social Work degree is a 60-semester credit hour program with a 900-hour field education component. The full-time program, which will take four semesters of study to complete, has the approval of the Council of Social Work Education and is in the formal process of obtaining full accreditation.
"The new social work master's degree program is built on the successful undergraduate Bachelor of Social Work program (at UTPA), which has been operating for over 25 years and has produced over 600 graduates," said Dr. Alonzo Cavazos, assistant professor and director of the BSW program.
"The undergraduate program produces about 50 bachelor's degree social workers each year, far fewer than the actual needs of the social service agencies of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The new master's degree will go a long way in improving the social services in the Valley. We have needed this program for a long time," Cavazos said.
Librado De Hoyos, associate professor of social work, agreed that the new master's program is a significant step forward in the development of social work services in the Valley.
"The MSSW is the terminal practice degree for social workers," De Hoyos said. "With this degree, social workers have the competencies that allow them to provide a wide range of helping services, meet the qualifications set by state agencies and other organizations, as well as to practice with minimal supervision. The level of social work practice will be raised to a much higher level, and this will make for greater contributions to the welfare of people in the Valley."
Raul H. Solis, assistant professor in the program and the coordinator of field education, said what sets a social work master’s degree apart from other professional training programs is the emphasis placed on field education.
"Students are required to have a minimum of 900 hours of supervised practice in real social work agency settings," he said. "This on-the-job instruction gives the social work student real life experience in working with various types of clients and prepares them for a smoother entry into social work employment after graduation. Agencies that hire social workers know they are getting someone who has real experience working with people in need.
"Field education is the heart of social work training. It equips the students with skills they cannot gain just from classroom study."
Delores Guerrero, another faculty member, points out that the new program will alter the way in which social work tasks are accomplished in the Valley.
"You know that this will radically alter social service delivery in the Valley," she said. "There will be a higher expectation of professional service in social service agencies. The result will be improved services throughout the system."
The MSSW program is structured so that almost anyone with a heart for helping people and a bachelor's degree can apply to the program, Mace said.
"We want students who have the desire to make a career of helping people," he said. "It does not matter if they have undergraduate degrees in English literature, business, history, philosophy, education, nursing, sociology, psychology or any other of the social or behavioral sciences. Our two-year program is designed to educate them to be competent social workers."
Those interested in the program should call the UTPA Department of Social Work at 956/381-3575 for an application packet. Prospective students also must submit a separate application for graduate admission to the Office of Admissions and Records. This application form is included in the application packet.