Interview with Jennifer Henningfield – Director of Online & Offsite Field Education for the Department of Social Work at CSUN

About Director Jennifer Henningfield, MSW, LCSW: Director Henningfield is currently the Director of Online & Offsite Field Education in the Department of Social Work at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). In 2006, she taught a field seminar class at CSUN and began working in the role of a field liaison. Director Henningfield later went on to the position of Field Coordinator and then to Assistant Director of Field Education before arriving in her current role. She also completed her undergraduate work in Psychology and Child Development at CSUN and earned her MSW from UCLA.

Director Henningfield’s areas of practice since earning her MSW in 1988 include hospital social work and inpatient psychiatric social work. She obtained her LCSW from the State of California Board of Behavioral Sciences in 1992. While working in an inpatient psychiatric facility, Director Henningfield developed a training program for MSW interns and acted as a field instructor for MSW students from CSUN, UCLA, and CSULA (California State University, Los Angeles). She enjoyed working with and mentoring students and found helping students apply what they were learning in their classes to actual work with clients and the community to be very rewarding. Jennifer Henningfield was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] 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 MSW program at CSUN?

[Director Henningfield] Students in CSUN’s Online MSW program will intern at two different agencies during the course of the two year program. Students are required to complete a minimum of 496 internship hours each year for a total of 992 hours. Students are to complete 16 hours per week and have a 35 week window each academic year (Sept – May) to complete their 62 field days at each of their assigned internship agencies.

[] 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?

[Director Henningfield] Students will complete their internship concurrently with their other academic coursework. There is a weekly field seminar that students must attend. It is the only synchronous class in the curriculum. During these weekly classes the students are in small groups of 5-6. The students interact directly with their Field Liaison (who is the assigned faculty instructor) and their small peer group to discuss topics and issues in relation to their internship experiences. In this course, we integrate what is happening in internship with what is being taught in their academic courses.

In addition to the Field Liaison (faculty) who does weekly classes and provides field visits each semester, the student’s learning will also be supported by the agency Field Instructor. The agency Field Instructor is responsible for direct supervision of the work the student does at the agency. The Field Instructor must be a graduate of a CSWE accredited MSW program and must have at least two years of post-graduation experience. The Field Instructor is responsible for providing weekly supervision sessions and mid-semester and end- of- semester evaluation of the student’s progress at their internship.

While students are in field they are mandated reporters and will be responsible for reporting any instances of Child or Elder Abuse as required by any applicable state laws. When such a case arises that a student must make a report they have the full support of their Field Instructor and Field Liaison in meeting all of the legal expectations of this process. In addition, reporting laws are discussed in the curriculums of several of our courses. Often the agency orientation will also include information on reporting laws and the agency’s protocols and policies around making reports.

Typically, our students are in field two days a week for eight hours per day. In some cases, the hours may be spread out over 3-4 weekdays, but that is less common and generally at the request of the students. Most of our field agencies have a preference for having the students with them for two full weekdays. We make an effort to place students within an hour drive [within 50 miles] of their residence. Each internship placement requires a minimum of 496 hours.

[] 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 typically 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?

[Director Henningfield] Our program attracts a large number of students who come in with relevant social work experience and for the more experienced students we strive to find them an internship that will challenge them, give them new skill sets, and build upon the basic skills they have already acquired. We do however work individually with each student to find them the best growth opportunity we can.

In our program students may choose to focus on different areas of social work in the foundation and concentration years. For instance, they may do case management in an agency serving the homeless population in their foundation year and then may choose to select another type of population and level of service in their concentration year. Many of our students will pick a macro level placement or work in mental health or health care in their second year. We highly encourage students to use the opportunity of both internships to expand their experience base and try something new.

As for the students’ relationship with the agency field instructor, there is variability. Some agencies believe in students diving in with both feet after the initial orientation, while others take a slower approach and have the students shadow other social workers and wade into the role. We personally interview each of our students before placing them so we can determine which type of environment would be a better fit.

We also like to meet the student [in order] to asses the type of supervision that would be most beneficial. Some supervisors work side by side with the student on a daily basis, while others only meet with the student for weekly supervision and as needed. This type of supervision situation often has the student paired with preceptors (non-MSW supervisors) that provide more of the direct daily supervision and responses to questions.

[] 4. How are field placements determined for both students who live in California and for students who live in other states? If students are interested in working with a specific demographic, does CSUN attempt to match a student based on interests when possible?

[Director Henningfield] For the foundation year, students are placed by the field department. We place students at an agency that offers a different experience in relation to the student’s past work and volunteer experiences. If a student comes in with only experience working with young children in a school setting, they can be fairly certain that they will not be in a school or with young children for their foundation year placement.

For the concentration year, students are placed based on their interest. For students who live in the Los Angeles, Orange or Ventura counties, they are combined with our campus students and the students at the other Los Angles area MSW programs for a regional interview and matching process.

Students participating in the regional interview and matching process will receive an orientation to the process, individualized field counseling and will select two agencies where they would like to interview for their second year field experience.

Students outside of the local region will work directly with a faculty Field Consultant to identify their area of interest and set up field interviews in their area. Students may request agencies of interest, however; all agencies are subject to CSUN Field Department approval. We need to make sure that the agency will contract with the University and that appropriate learning opportunities and supervision are available.

[] For students who already work at a health services agency, are they 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?

[Director Henningfield] In some cases, CSUN will allow a student to do their concentration year internship at their place of employment. We call this a Job Conversion. We have very specific conditions for this to occur. We must be able to contract with the agency, if we do not currently have a contract. The agency must have a qualified MSW or LCSW to provide supervision. The student’s internship responsibilities needs to be in a different area or service of the organization and must be completely different from what the student does for their employment. Theses hours may be paid or unpaid and it is at the discretion of the student’s employer.

Most agencies have a fairly simple time obtaining a contract with the university. Federal, state, and county agencies generally have a longer contract process and this may be an obstacle if there is not sufficient time to go through the red tape with the various legal departments involved. The same is often true of healthcare organizations.

[] For students who 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?

[Director Henningfield] We do have our students interview for their internships, as we believe this extra step provides both the student and field instructor with a better idea of expectations and learning goals. We ask that students dress professionally and bring a current resume to the interview. In general the students should be prepared to discuss their interests and goals. The ability to highlight how their past work, volunteer, and academic experience will be useful in their new internship role is always encouraged.

[] Since the online MSW program accepts students from across the country, has CSUN ever had issues finding a local agency for an online student? If so, what happens in these situations?

[Director Henningfield] We have a very dedicated field staff which has been successful in finding each of our students an appropriate placement. We also have relationships with field faculty around the country that we can collaborate with in cases where placements are less easily identified.

[] Field Education requires a significant time commitment from students and is even more demanding for full-time programs. Many online programs are geared towards working professionals, how do you recommend students balance field education with other responsibilities?

[Director Henningfield] The field requirements are quite rigorous and we do spend a significant amount of time discussing self-care with our students as many struggle to balance all of the demands of school, internship, work, family, etc. It is important that students realize that our online program is full time and therefore the pace is fast and the time commitment is not geared towards those with demanding or inflexible employment.

Students will need to have two full weekdays to do their internship hours. Most students in our program find that this is not compatible with a 40 hour work week. Many have reduced their hours of employment or have taken positions that are more flexible and less demanding so they can fully commit to their education for the 20 month duration of the program.

[] Can you describe the important of self-care in social work education?

[Director Henningfield] Types of self-care and its importance are discussed in many of our classes. In field seminar students are often asked to report on what they are doing for their own self-care. Students encourage each other and often provide each other with ideas based on their own experiences. When we see that students are not engaging in self-care activities we may ask to meet with them individually to discuss the importance of finding some down time and help the student reflect on the barriers they perceive that are making self-care a low priority.

[] What are some of the main questions and concerns students have while completing their field education requirements? Can you briefly summarize some of the advice you give these students?

[Director Henningfield] Students are often concerned that they do not have enough experience to work with certain populations. We assure students that we are placing them in a learning environment and that they are not expected to come in with all of the knowledge or information they will need. We explain that this is a learning opportunity and they will receive the needed training to be successful.

Students often ask about stipends. We are always happy to secure stipends or paid internships for our student when available, but in reality they are currently few and far between.

[] Finally, can you summarize the importance of field education in online MSW programs and why students should consider pursuing their online MSW at CSUN?

[Director Henningfield] Field education is extremely important in MSW education. It is the signature pedagogy of our profession and it takes on even more significance in online programs. It is the student’s “in person” link to the field. Through the field seminars with the field liaison and the internship with their field instructor, the student can develop relationships with social workers who can mentor them in their professional development.

CSUN offers an online program that provides the same curriculum as our on campus programs. We even use the same instructors who teach in our on-campus programs. Students are divided into even smaller field seminar sections, than is the case in our traditional program classes, to make certain that each student is able to get the attention and guidance they need. In addition all students have a faculty advisor to consult with when needed.

Our program is committed to student success. Students admitted to our program are admitted with the intent that they will graduate and join the workforce as well trained and highly competent MSWs. We take our role in the education of future MSW colleagues very seriously.

Students who are interested in getting more information about CSUN’s online MSW program can visit CSUN’s website.

Thank you Director Henningfield for your time and insight!

Last updated: April 2020