NSights Blog

The ongoing growth of the School of Social Work

The School of Social Work is focusing on quality education and diverse leadership as enrollment continues to grow despite the challenges of COVID

When I joined the School of Social Work (SSW) in 2018 as the founding Dean, I had a vision and big goals for the newly independent School of Social Work - above all, I wanted our students to receive the best quality education worthy of their sacrifices. Over the past few years, our amazing faculty and staff have been working hard to accomplish these goals, and today I believe the SSW is better positioned than ever before to offer students the high-quality education they need to serve the various needs of our communities. I believe the mental health and wellbeing of our communities is directly influenced by the quality and quantity of the students we graduate.

As of Spring 2021, the SSW has experienced its highest enrollment in history with nearly 800 students, a 433% increase over the past four years. Despite challenges of COVID, our enrollment is up by 12.33%. The SSW was one of two schools at the University to show an increase in enrollment during COVID. SSW contributed to 11% of graduate students at the university. Our minority enrollment was up by 15.11%. Our school pass rate is above national average by 10% and our MSW program remains one of the most affordable in the country with nearly 100% retention rate.

Providing an education that is worthy of the sacrifices of our students

Over the past years, we have 15 new faculty and enhanced the diversity of our faculty to be more representative of our student body.

We know one of the most important predictors of student success is time-spent with faculty outside of classroom in mentorship.  This is what students lacked when the majority of their courses were taught by part time instructors (LOAs). LOAs remain an important part of our ability to deliver adequate course offerings and we have an incredible pool of social work professionals who provide instructions for us. But these new full-time hires allow the school the ability to offer the much-needed mentorship to our students.  The new hires have been made possible through self-supporting programs and prudent fiscal management.

The State of Nevada has a critical shortage of social workers. Currently, there are approximately 3.2 million people living in Nevada served by 2,700 licensed social workers — that is one social worker for every 1,100 citizens. UNR is one of two universities in the State to offer a social work degree.  Growing the school has become more critical than ever as the success of the school has direct impact on the ability to offer mental health services and improving the wellbeing of all Nevadans and beyond.

With the school’s attention to improving mental health and quality of life for Nevada’s diverse and growing population, we have expanded partnerships with public and private hospitals, healthcare institutions, and community agencies.  We’ve also expanded community and state partnerships with health and human services to advance social work practice and education.  

Providing affordable education for our students

More than 86% of social work students are female and more than 50.1% of our total students are minorities. Unfortunately, women and minorities are disproportionately burdened by student debt due to wage gap that persists - additionally to enter jobs that don’t pay high salaries.

For these reasons, I continue to advocate to keep education affordable and accessible to all students.

We’ve expanded educational opportunities to rural areas by developing 3+1 bachelor’s degree programs in partnership with community colleges, which allow students to complete the equivalent of the first three years of academic study through a community college and their final year through the University. These partnerships have enhanced educational access to low-income students, students of color and working adults in rural areas of Nevada.

We also have a Title IV-E child welfare training grant which provides training to the child welfare workforce in northern Nevada in addition to stipends for students interested in child welfare.

Our field practicum, which is a crucial part of the curriculum, allows students to receive real-life experience with community organizations and public agencies. We’re working to make field placements paid opportunities for as many master’s level students as we can.  

Elevating our students and our profession into leadership roles

I believe social workers are uniquely equipped to take on leadership roles because of our professional values and ethics.

These values are universal: social justice, service, integrity, competence, human relations and dignity. These values orient social workers in their decision-making, and that's what makes them great leaders. Our mission is focused on making sure our students graduate with the desire to take on leadership roles. The desire to become a leader is not self-serving; it is an obligation to ensure the voices of marginalized populations are heard. I want students to understand they owe it to their constituents to become leaders as they are the change agents and future leaders.

The future of the School of Social Work is bright

As I look ahead, I am excited for what’s to come. We’re looking forward to developing specializations and certificates allowing students to gain the skills necessary to fill the needs of the current work force - we are exploring micro credentials and other ways to enhance our students skills and employability.

I believe we have an obligation to help meet the workforce needs of Nevada. We know the State needs social workers who can hit the ground running and I look forward to establishing specializations and certificate programs in areas such as aging, behavioral health, child welfare, medical social work, and more to meet this ever-growing demand.

We currently have a number of faculty working on research and grants and they are partnering with community organizations and the state in numerous ways. A few of the things we’re working on:

  • Working with a Federal grant with the Department of Health and Human Services to train and prepare minority leaders in health equity. This grant would help fund a year-long fellowship for graduate students who are two-years out of school and working in public policy who aspire to be leaders.
  • Working with the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) and the Latino Behavioral Health Association to provide leadership training to Latino social workers.
  • Working with Nevada Health and Human Services to train and provide more social workers qualified to work in aging and disability. There’s currently a shortage of social workers in this demographic.
  • Partnering with the College of Education and Human Development through the Nevada Center for Excellence and Disabilities to support families, children, and youth with special care needs through free-of-charge consultations and services.

These are just a few of the things we’re working on. We are also looking forward to receiving our own building on campus. I believe having our own building shows the value of social work within the campus community, and another way of elevating our profession. We’re hoping to be in this building by December 2022.

My commitment to our students and our community is that we will continue to grow, but also assure that our growth is supported so that the quality remains strong. I have always been of the belief that if you have a quality program, growth becomes a side effect of that quality. Quality affordable education will always be at the heart of my mission.  

We will continue to stay resilient. The resiliency of the SSW is critical to help meet the growing social service needs of the State and serve families who are in desperate need of the skills, services and advocacy social workers provide. 

Shadi Martin speaking
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