University ‘grows its own’ with on-campus placement

When Veronica Gonzalez, who counsels young people in her job at Monterey County’s Division of Behavioral Health, heard about the opportunity to earn a master’s degree in social work at CSU Monterey Bay, she was eager to sign up.

Veronica Gonzalez in her Salinas officeGonzalez (at left) was among the first group of students accepted into the program when it started in the fall of 2010. Now those students are about to start their internships as part of the second-year curriculum.

Gonzalez will work with the university’s Personal Growth and Counseling Center (PGCC). She chose that location in part because she’s an alumna of CSUMB and liked the idea of helping students.

"After going through the interview process, I knew that the PGCC was the perfect match for me," Gonzalez said.

Caroline Haskell, director of health and wellness services and founding director of the PGCC, said Gonzalez will work just like a therapist. “She’ll have a caseload.

“We’re growing our own,” Haskell said, adding that the PGCC has provided field-placement opportunities to students from Sacramento State, San Jose State and several other universities for more than a decade. She’s pleased to provide the same opportunity to CSUMB’s graduate students.

Most of the internships – called field practicums – are with the program’s community partners. They include the Kinship Center, Interim, Inc., Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula and various public agencies in Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.

Dr. Mayleen True“Our community partners helped us develop the program,” said Dr. Mayleen True, director of the MSW program. “Now, they’ll have the opportunity to prepare our students to become culturally competent social work professionals.”

Dr. True (at right) added that many of the agencies prefer advanced-year students, but “they agreed to take our foundation-year students to support the new program. This is a great indication of the strong university-community partnership.”

The partners will have the opportunity to provide feedback to the MSW faculty. “They can tell us if the students are getting trained the way they wanted or expected,” said Vivienne Orgel, the program’s outreach, recruitment and admissions coordinator.

There has long been a need for people with MSW degrees in the region. Before the university even opened its doors in 1995, discussions were held about establishing a social work program. A number of obstacles intervened.

But with the passage of Proposition 63 in 2004, funding became available. The Mental Health Services Act added a 1 percent tax on personal incomes over $1 million. The money is funneled to county mental health programs, and some is earmarked for workforce development. The Southern Bay Area Collaboratives and the Monterey County Behavioral Health Division directed $630,000 of that money to support development of the university’s MSW program.

The three-year program allows students to concentrate in Behavioral Health or Children, Youth and Families. Students must also complete an internship of 1,000 hours, 250 hours per semester starting in the second year. They will spend an academic year in each of their internship placements.

Gonzalez is eager to start her year of service to CSUMB students.

"The Personal Growth and Counseling Center provides great services to students and their way of doing business goes hand-in-hand with my professional ethics and style.

"I think this internship position is going to allow me to build on my social work skills, allow me to learn new therapeutic skills and allow me to work with a diverse population of young adults," she said.