About Dr. Jane C. Hickerson, PhD, LCSW: Dr. Hickerson is currently the Assistant Dean of Field Education and an Assistant Professor in Practice in the School of Social Work at the University of Texas, Arlington (UTA). She has earned both an MSW and a PhD in Social Work. Dr. Hickerson has over 15 years of experience working with individuals, couples, and families, as well as teaching human behavior and child development courses in the UTA School of Social Work. In addition, she has extensive experience in program evaluation and training in agencies that serve children and vulnerable adults throughout the US, Canada, and the UK.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Field education is a major component of MSW programs and is a requirement for graduation. Can you briefly explain the field education requirements for the online MSSW program at UTA?
[Dr. Hickerson] Our online students must meet the same requirements in field as our traditional students. First-year graduate students complete a one-semester, 400-hour practicum in one of our affiliate agencies. This placement includes tasks in both micro and macro-level practice. Second-year students must complete a 500-hour field practicum at a different agency, concentrating in micro-level practice with children and families. The second-year placement typically includes 250 hours in each of two consecutive semesters, which amounts to about 18-20 hours per week. Our program’s 900 hours of practicum experience build a solid foundation for professional work.
While we have numerous affiliated agencies in the DFW area and beyond, sometimes, our online students like to help find the type of placement in the area where they live. We work closely with these students and the chosen agency to ensure that they have a rich field experience with careful supervision.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who are just starting to research online MSW programs, can you give a brief overview of how field education works? For example, how is field education integrated into the program and do students have a faculty mentor as well as a field instructor?
[Dr. Hickerson] Generally, our curriculum emphasizes the practical application of theory and policy; we measure a student’s ability to demonstrate this application in field. Both practicums require students and field instructors to maintain a weekly supervision log that shows the students’ activities as well as their progress toward learning goals. In addition, field instructors complete a final evaluation of the students’ progress.
First-year graduates take a field seminar course in the same semester as their field practicum. This course provides content relevant to micro/macro practice and serves as a forum for processing field experiences. The instructor for this course also serves as the students’ field liaison.
Although our advanced graduate students do not take a class concurrently with their field experience, they do enjoy the support of their on-site Field Instructors as well as the support of the SSW faculty liaison and the Office of Field Education. We are in the process of developing a Blackboard-based platform wherein second-year students have more frequent contact with their UTA faculty liaisons. Students meet weekly with their on-site Field Instructors in the agencies, but they will also be in contact with our liaisons to support their learning and address any needs or concerns.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For some students, field education may be a completely new experience (especially for students who did not earn a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW), what is a typical day like for a student at a field placement and how does that change as they gain more experience? How is field education different for students in their foundation year versus their advanced standing year?
[Dr. Hickerson] We expect that our first-year graduates will become acquainted with the mission, structure, and services provided by their host agency during their first days in field. As the semester progresses, students will move from shadowing social workers to carrying a modest caseload or interacting directly with clients (administering clinical and needs assessments, developing intervention strategies, attending staff meetings and community meetings, providing psychosocial education in both micro and macro situations).
Field Instructors typically spend a great deal of time with our students throughout this process, but they are required to provide one hour of formal and documented supervision weekly. This hour is spent reviewing cases, teaching social work skills, discussing the intersection of theory and practice as well as the role of the social worker in the agency, and professional behavior, standards, and ethics.
Often, students develop a lifelong professional relationship with the Field Instructors who have such a big impact on their early practical experience.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] How are field placements determined for students in the online MSSW program? If students are interested in working with a specific demographic, does UTA attempt to match a student based on interests when possible?
[Dr. Hickerson] If online students live outside of Tarrant, Dallas, Collin, or Denton counties, we ask whether they want to assist in looking for a human/social service agency in their area that will be willing and able to provide them with an internship.
We ask for student input and assistance for several reasons:
- They know the agencies in their area better than we do.
- They know the comfortable distance they are willing to travel for their internship.
- They may know professionals in their area who can assist in the search.
- They are able to consider their special interests in population served or type of services provided.
Our office makes every effort to match students according to their interests as long as an agency is available to provide them with the experience they desire. The School of Social Work at UTA is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education, so all affiliated agencies must meet the requirements that CSWE expects. Sometimes, agencies can offer flexible hours, but typically, agencies ask that students be present during at least part of the regular work week. In some cases, we are able to arrange for students to complete their field placement at their places of employment.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Are students who already work at a health services agency allowed to complete any of their field education requirements at their current place of employment? If so, how does this process work and are there any restrictions?
[Dr. Hickerson] Students can request to complete their field placement at their place of employment under the following circumstances:
- The place of employment is a social service agency.
- The place of employment can offer an internship that is completely different in scope, service, and task from what the student does as an employee.
- The place of employment has a master’s level social worker who is willing to perform all of the tasks of a Field Instructor, including the paperwork required through UTA. This person must be someone other than the student’s employment supervisor.
- The place of employment must apply for affiliation with the UTA SSW.
- Once the agency application is approved, the main contact from the agency must state who will act as the Field Instructor.
- The Field Instructor must also apply with our office and be approved.
- The Field Instructor must also attend our Field Instructor Academy.
Students can only complete one field placement at their personal job site.
A few of our local sites offer stipends to students. Students can accept stipends for their field hours, but these hours cannot be used as paid employment. (e.g., W-2, 1099)
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Once students are matched to an agency where they have not been previously employed, are they required to interview for a position? If so, how do you recommend students prepare for interviews?
[Dr. Hickerson] Agencies want to interview students before accepting them into their environment, and some agencies demand more than an interview – things like a criminal background check, drug testing, immunizations, and certification in CPR.
We recommend that students prepare for this interview as they would a job interview.
- Students should find out as much about the agency as they can before they go for the interview so that they understand the agency’s mission and services.
- Students should bring a set of questions with them to be sure that they understand the opportunity the agency is providing and to ensure that this opportunity matches their interests.
- Students should be well-groomed and dress professionally for this interview. School attire is typically unacceptable. Of course, all clothing should be appropriately modest.
- Students should conduct themselves professionally, presenting as well-spoken and polite. Eye-contact is good practice as well.
- Students should be ON TIME. They need to plan the route. They should know how long it takes to drive to the location, and allow more time than that to get there.
- In the case of unforeseen catastrophe, students should have the number of the agency contact person with them so that they can call if circumstances beyond their control interfere with promptness.
- Maybe it should go without saying, but students should not chew gum or bring food or drink into the interview.
- Students should not wear jeans, flip-flops, t-shirts, frayed or unclean clothes.
- Students should not expect that every agency will accept them despite their clean and professional presentation.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Field Education requires a significant time commitment from students and many online programs are geared towards working professionals. How do you recommend students balance field education with other responsibilities?
[Dr. Hickerson] Field requires more commitment than any other facet of the social work curriculum. We are acutely aware that many of our students have families, jobs, and other life demands. Nevertheless, field transforms students into professionals and is the bedrock of the educational process.
The following is on our website as a way to prepare for field.
“We recommend that you start planning for field when you apply to the program.
Field presents a hurdle that other courses do not. Although you create a degree plan for all of your courses, your field placement demands a different time commitment.
Remember: this is a practicum. You will be in a professional setting developing the essential skills of social workers. Depending on the type of placement you need (undergraduate, graduate, for example), you must be prepared to spend somewhere between 16 and 25 hours per week in your assigned agency or working with your Field Instructor.
Once you decide to enter the social work program, please begin to strategize how you will add the necessary field hours to your already-busy life. Typically, agencies do not offer internship hours exclusively in the evenings or on weekends. A few agencies offer flexible times, but most require availability during the work week. All of them require that you be present during the work week for your formal supervision.
We understand that accommodating your field experience requires commitment and sometimes sacrifice. However, field is the “signature pedagogy” of social work education (Council on Social Work Education) because it transforms you into a professional.It is essential to your education.
It is the springboard for your career.
It is the pathway to your life’s work.
It is worth the trouble.”
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Finally, can you summarize the importance of field education in online MSW programs and why students should consider pursuing their online MSW at UTA?
[Dr. Hickerson] Field is the synthesis of theory and practice. It is a time of growth, self-awareness and awareness of others that is not possible in the classroom. It is fundamental to all MSW programs, whether online, distance, or on-campus. No one would want to see a physician or a nurse who had not completed an internship. Social work clients also deserve professionals who have practical experience even in their early years as social workers.
The online program at UTA is highly desirable for several reasons. First, our on-campus program is the largest in the southwest and one of the oldest in the state. Our size points to the diversity of our student population as well as to our reputation as a premier school. We use our history and experience to build an online program of the highest quality.
Secondly, over the last 20 years, the SSW faculty has been working with technologies to bring on-campus classes to off-campus locations, so we have much experience using the newest platforms for teaching as they have developed into current, sophisticated e-learning models. Our faculty are interested in e-learning and continue to develop increasingly user-friendly virtual classes that allow students to feel involved, stimulated, and supported.
Finally, the online program allows for flexibility as students prepare and plan for field. Once students are able to accommodate the demands of online classes, they can gauge their scheduling needs for field. Also, the online classes spark an interest in the agencies where the student lives and perhaps encourage students to think about what area of service fits their career goals. Our field office has over 300 affiliated agencies and is well-prepared to make off-campus agency affiliations as easy as possible for the agency and the students.
Students who are interested in getting more information about UTA’s online MSW program can visit their website or contact the Department of Social Work at (817) 272-1044 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you Dr. Hickerson for your time and insight!