School of Social Work Receives $1.24 Million Grant to Support Student and Alumni Success
Gift from the Conrad Prebys Foundation will address a labor shortage in youth behavioral health services and diversify the workforce.
The Conrad Prebys Foundation has awarded a $1.24 million grant to the San Diego State University School of Social Work to make its Master of Social Work (MSW) program more financially accessible to students from diverse backgrounds.
The grant from one of San Diego’s most prominent philanthropies addresses a critical shortage of behavioral health workers, a need exacerbated by the stress and isolation many experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. The grant will also help graduates of the program on their path to becoming licensed clinical social workers (LCSWs) in California.
Over two years, stipends will be granted to 10 MSW students who have a specific interest in youth behavioral health services and whose cultural and linguistic backgrounds make them well-suited to address the needs of underserved communities.
“This extra support goes a long way in helping students persist through the program,” said Natasha Bliss, director of strategic partnerships in the Division of Research and Innovation and co-principal investigator on the grant.
Jong Won Min, director of the School of Social Work, said one of the school’s goals is to help students to thrive in their careers. Many of the school’s students have been influenced by the encouragement of a social worker at some point during their lives, he said, and want to give back to the community in similar ways.
“The students that we have here in School of Social Work — none of them are here for selfish reasons, but for the altruistic motivation that they have,” Min said. “They are there spending their resources and time to learn how to professionally help others.”
Kellie Scott, admissions director and graduate advisor for the School of Social Work and co-principal investigator on the grant, said small community-based organizations in underserved areas often cannot provide supervision.
To address this, the grant will also support 40 MSW candidates and graduates toward licensure by funding supervision at the nonprofit organizations where they work. As LCSWs, alumni have more earning potential but must complete 3,000 hours of supervised on-the-job experience before sitting for their licensure exam.
“Graduates want to work for these wonderful nonprofits in the community, but many don't yet have the clinical supervisors to support the new graduates coming in,” said Scott.
MSW graduates working toward licensure frequently pay out-of-pocket for supervision. The costs can add up, and as recent graduates, many don’t have the means to pay for it. Some opt to work for large companies, agencies or organizations that can provide supervision. The new program will help support alumni who are truly passionate about working with small community-based organizations, said Scott.
Many smaller agencies are embedded in the communities with which they work, and are well-equipped to provide culturally responsive services, said Scott.
To better serve these communities, preference will be given to MSW stipend and licensure supervision applicants who speak Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia), Arabic, Burmese, Khmer, Somali, Spanish, or Vietnamese. Understanding the culture and language of the populations they serve will help them facilitate their clients’ access to the health system and reduce the stigma surrounding behavioral health.
“The Conrad Prebys Foundation is proud to provide support for SDSU’s School of Social Work to help students pursue a rewarding career in social work,” said Grant Oliphant, CEO of the foundation. “The beauty of their approach is that this program will also help serve communities that deserve high-quality behavioral health services that are sensitive to their cultural and language needs.”
“Supporting career pathways for students and alumni with lived experience in the communities they serve will help ensure that our vulnerable youth will have the opportunity to benefit from behavioral health services that are targeted to their specific needs,” said Hala Madanat, distinguished professor in the School of Public Health and vice president for research and innovation.
“What’s more, the partnership with the Prebys Foundation will have a ripple effect on the larger community by increasing the overall pool of well-qualified social workers in the region.”