FHSU to graduate first class of Master of Social Work students

FHSU Media Relations
Next month, the first class of graduate FHSU's Master of Social Work program will be graduating.

A need for more social workers in Fort Hays State University’s service area led to the addition of a Master of Social Work (MSW) online program a year ago.

Like with any first-year program, FHSU was optimistic but maintained realistic expectations of how many students would enroll for the 2020-21 school year. The maximum number of spots for the first year was 52, and applications far exceeded that number.

“We thought it would be a popular program,” Davis said. “We were concerned about filling our first class, but we have had to put people on a waiting list. The response has been tremendous.”

The program – the only fully online MSW in the state – offers two different pathways. The standard master’s program spans four semesters, a summer term, and field practicum experience. The Advanced Standing Program is available to students with a bachelor’s degree in social work from a Council of Social Work Education accredited social work program. This program can be completed in one calendar year of academic coursework and two semesters of field practicum experience. 

Next month, the Advanced Standing Program will celebrate its first graduating class of 28. That inaugural cohort of 26 was on campus this semester to take part in clinical Intensives, a unique comprehensive exam in which the students participate in numerous hands-on practices.

The week-long clinical intensives model includes practicing professional and personal development where students display skills in assessing patients, family intervention, and theory intervention. The program includes activities where FHSU faculty film the students, then give them feedback.

“One of the things I tell students is that our program is not just clinical education but clinical training,” Davis said.

While the MSW curriculum is entirely online, FHSU’s goal is to maintain a strong, hands-on clinical training emphasis. The program features synchronous Zoom meetings where students can interact with instructors and weekly video updates to ensure that students feel connected.

“We want to educate good clinical social workers and build communities of practice,” said Dr. Tim Davis, chair of the Department of Social Work. “Therefore, we are making sure that we are training people with real-world experiences.”

Davis said the department plans to give ongoing support to alumni at no cost after graduation by providing group supervision for clinical licensure and ongoing professional development activities.

“It is important to us that our graduates continue developing their skills and seek advanced clinical licensure when necessary to better serve our communities,” he said. 

In addition to the standard requirement of 16 to 24 hours a week of clinical practicums, students complete several short clinical rotations at health clinics, mental health clinics, or other clinical sites at the start of the clinical practicum period. A lot of those will work in underserved areas of many kinds when they graduate.

“We are underserved out here in rural Kansas,” Davis said. “However, underserved can also mean urban settings that might have problems attracting social workers to their area.”

Most of the current students are from Kansas, but this year’s class also represented numerous other states, including bordering states Colorado, Oklahoma, and Missouri, as well as Georgia, Illinois, and Indiana.

FHSU has increased its full-time faculty to eight, including seven who are primarily dedicated to the MSW program. With the addition of two more faculty members, the number of students next year can increase to a total of 85 full-time students.

“The MSW program at FHSU provides high quality and affordable solution to the demand for clinical social workers in Kansas,” Davis said. “There is an acute, unmet need for social workers at the master’s and clinical level across Kansas, and particularly in the FHSU service area. This will improve access to health and mental health care for residents in the underserved rural areas of the state.”