Interview with Dr. Beth Walker – Interim Dean and Professor and Chair of Social Work at Western New Mexico University

About Dr. Beth Walker, EdD, LISW: Dr. Walker is currently the Interim Dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Western New Mexico University (WNMU). She is also Professor and Chair of the School of Social Work at WNMU. Dr. Walker earned her EdD from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and her MSSW from the University of Tennessee, Memphis. She also completed a BSW from Memphis State University (which is now The University of Memphis). Dr. Walker has been at WNMU since 2005 and currently teaches the research sequences at both the BSW and MSW levels.

Before joining WNMU, Dr. Walker served as program director at two small Arkansas Universities. For much of her professional career, she worked as an executive at United Way, in communities large and small, so she is a macro social worker at heart. Dr. Walker has an LISW, which is “New Mexico-ese” for an LCSW, although that terminology is going to change in the near future.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Currently, there are approximately 20 universities offering fully online MSW programs. How long has the program at WNMU been offered and how is it structured?

[Dr. Walker] We’ve been accredited since June of 2013, and the majority of the instruction is asynchronous. Occasionally a course will be taught – usually at the students’ request – synchronously, but in almost all those instances, there is an online option. We refer to the method of instruction for the synchronous classes as “Skype-like.” A no-cost software is provided to the student, who puts it on his/her own computer and participates in the class as if it were by Skype.

Students don’t really enter in cohorts, but they tend to move toward them. Students can stop-out. And we are absolutely firm believers that students get the very same education. We’ve been teaching [online] at WNMU in the BSW Program since before my arrival to far-flung sites in New Mexico using ITV, and we see this as a “smaller screen” version of that teaching. One of our sites takes me 5 hours to reach by car, and there is no flight, so years ago, it was ITV or nothing.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] WNMU’s online MSW program is an Advanced Generalist program with the option to take electives in specialized areas like school social work, military social work, child welfare, and gerontology. For students who are just starting to research online MSW programs, can you briefly describe what it means to be an Advanced Generalist program? Does the program prepare students for a career in direct-service social work, clinical social work or both?

[Dr. Walker] We believe [our program] prepares students for both – in fact, that’s why we chose Advanced Generalist. To us, it means that we provide students with a toolbox of skills for social work practice, which they hone with electives and will further hone in professional practice.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who want to become licensed clinical social workers, licensing requirements vary by state. What advice do you have for students in terms of researching the requirements in their state of residence and how does WNMU help with the process?

[Dr. Walker] That the student have telephone conversations with the licensing board in their state of choice would be our first piece of advice (and that the student note the date and time of the call, and the name of the person with whom they spoke – and finally, that they make really good notes that they read back to the licensing board representative for confirmation). Outside of New Mexico, we would not presume to inform students of those requirements. We also refer them to the ASWB site. I’ve been known to make a phone call to a licensing board since sometimes I speak better “license-ese” than an incoming student, and will continue to make those calls for student who would like me to do to. (View list of licensing boards.)

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Field Education is a major component of MSW programs and requires a significant time commitment from students. Many online programs are geared towards working professionals, how do you recommend students balance field education with other responsibilities?

[Dr. Walker] Since flexibility is a term I would use in terms of our program, let me try not to be too prescriptive. We are geared toward the working professional, and our synchronous classes are nights and weekends. We recommend that the students not begin field in their first semester, although we have a wonderful Field Director who can help make field work for the student. It averages out to about 20 hours a week – we have four field experiences for students without a BSW, and two for those with a BSW.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Can you describe the important of self-care in social work education and how WNMU teaches self-care in the online MSW programs?

[Dr. Walker] We actually have an elective on self-care. We believe it is crucial for any practitioner. But we primarily teach it through modeling it, unless it is a semester in which the elective is taught. We ask students to make appointments if it’s more than a quick question; we try to acknowledge it when we make a mistake; we believe in our students and in our faculty and in our Program and in our University – and in our profession.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who have already decided they want to pursue a MSW, but are unsure about online education, can you briefly explain the pros and cons to pursuing a MSW online?

[Dr. Walker] It allows a student to miss the most fun I had in my MSW Program – a two hour each way drive to classes, with two small children at home and a husband who, while supportive, wasn’t actually interested in being a single parent. My doctorate was the same way. Drive, drive, drive. But with our program, the student gets the best of both worlds: no drive, but a professor and classmates who are present in every sense of the word except tactile – we advise, teach, and provide supervision via the “Skype-like” process, and students ask each other questions and see each other’s body language, if they are in one of those classes.

The fully online classes are what most students are used to today in terms of online – asynchronous, and fully at the student’s convenience (always following the syllabus in terms of due dates, of course). Most online classes have strong, robust, and vibrant discussions. We want to educate true social workers!

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Online education requires discipline from students to stay on track and keep up with coursework and assignments. What systems are in place to ensure that online students do not fall behind? Do you have any recommendations for online students in terms of staying on track with coursework?

[Dr. Walker] Our first recommendation is that the student stays in touch. But we are known on our campus as pursuing what is sometimes called an “intrusive advising” style – we check on students, we send curious emails, we are supportive whenever possible.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Online programs have really helped to open the door to higher education for more individuals, especially those who do not have access to a local university, does WNMU accept students nationally or only from certain states?

[Dr. Walker] Anybody and everybody. And a present, we don’t even charge out of state tuition for up to 6 credits a semester.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who are ready to apply to the Online MSW Program at WNMU, what advice do you have in terms of preparing their application? I know the program requires a Narrative Supplement.

[Dr. Walker] We suggest that the student have the Narrative and the Resume prepared before starting (it’s an online application), and gather contact info for references (with whom they have checked that it’s okay to use them as a reference).

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Finally, with more universities starting to offer online MSW programs, why should students consider WNMU?

[Dr. Walker] I don’t really know how to answer this one. I know that we love our students, and we work hard to get them to succeed. We don’t spoon-feed, and we don’t nag, but we do support and we do try to model social work as a profession in our daily lives as social work educators. We are rural, but we’ve almost all lived in big cities; we have Native American and Hispanic as well as Anglo students, but who doesn’t these days? We care about our communities – and one of us lives in Ohio!

Students who are interested in getting more information about Western New Mexico University’s online MSW programs can visit Western New Mexico University’s website or contact Dr. Walker in the School of Social Work at (575) 538-6323 or by email at walkerb@wnmu.edu.

Thank you Dr. Beth Walker for your time and insight!