Interview with Dr. Jodi Constantine Brown – Director of Online and Offsite MSW Programs, Associate Chair of the Social Work Department at CSUN

About Dr. Jodi Constantine Brown, Ph.D., MSW: Dr. Constantine Brown received her MSW from the University of Illinois-Chicago and her Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis. She also completed a post-doctoral research fellowship in mental health economics at the Harvard Medical School in the Department of Health Care Policy.

Dr. Constantine Brown joined the California State University, Northridge (CSUN) faculty in 2011 as an Assistant Professor. In July 2013, she became the Director of Online and Offsite Programs and Associate Chair of the Social Work Department. She developed and teaches research classes online including SWRK 535, 635, and 698 (Capstone). Dr. Jodi Constantine Brown was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Currently, there are less than 20 universities that offer online MSW programs. How is the full-time program at CSUN structured?

[Dr. Constantine Brown] The first fully online CSUN MSW cohort will graduate in spring 2014. Students enter in cohorts and remain with that same group throughout the entirety of the program. Currently, all instruction is asynchronous with the exception of the field class which meets synchronously online for 45 minutes every week. Because we are a cohort model, students are expected to complete the program in two years. Students receive the same education from the same faculty as those students who choose to attend the on-campus program or any of our other off-site programs.

[] CSUN’s online MSW program focuses on urban family practice. For students who are just starting to research online MSW programs, can you briefly describe this concentration and what students can expect from the program? Does the program prepare students for a career in direct-service social work, clinical social work or both?

[Dr. Constantine Brown] The CSUN MSW program helps to promote the well-being of individuals, families and communities in the urban setting. This focus offers students the opportunity to learn strategies for working in any urban environment at the micro (individual/family), mezzo (group/community) and macro (policy/societal) levels. Students can expect to learn research-based knowledge, values, and skills to prevent social, emotional, and behavioral problems and support the recovery process, improve the well-being of individuals and families and build upon their strengths, and advocate for a diverse and just society. The CSUN MSW program prepares students for a career in both direct-service social work as well as establishes a strong foundation for practitioners interested in pursuing clinical social work and licensure.

[] 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. Constantine Brown] Time management is key! We recognize the challenges inherent in balancing career, family, academic, and field placement responsibilities, but maintain our top quality program and expectations to nurture the growth of a successful social work practitioner. Strong effort is made prior to field education placements to match students with appropriate field education opportunities where students can put into practice what they learn in the classes. Effective communication with field education instructors and the ability to prioritize and organize responsibilities are also important. All field education placements will have a set amount of hours and a predictable schedule to help students balance their multiple responsibilities.

[] What advice do you have for students who are considering earning an MSW (and possibly entering the field of social work for the first time)?

[Dr. Constantine Brown] The field of social work is an important and rewarding career, however because of the nature of certain types of social work settings or circumstances, there are also very high expectations for social workers to exercise professional judgment, ethical behavior, and have good methods of self-care. We do our best to inform prospective MSW applicants that successful participation and completion of the program requires a significant commitment of time, energy, financial resources, and physical and emotional health, and we support our current students in these efforts through our cohort model, academic advising, and family atmosphere.

The field of social work itself is very broad, and areas of social work practice include but are not limited to community-based organizations in health care, housing, education, justice, advocacy and policy work, academia, and corporate positions. Practitioners may work directly with individuals and families (micro), groups and communities (mezzo), policies and societies (macro), or a mixture of the three.

[] 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. Constantine Brown] There are many benefits to online education that differ from the traditional on-campus experience. At CSUN, the curriculum, program requirements, and faculty are identical so students in all of our programs receive the same quality of education and earn the same degree from the same institution. Online education provides students more flexibility in terms of time, without having to worry about their distance to campus, traveling, or having class meetings at specific times. Due to the flexibility of being able to access their coursework 24 hours a day, students enrolled in online programs may be better able to balance other demanding responsibilities such as a full-time job or personal commitments.

Of course, to be successful in online education, there are minimal technical requirements and required computer skills that students must already have in order to benefit from the online classroom and online learning experience. In addition to an appropriate amount of access to the internet, students in online programs have a greater responsibility to manage their own schedules, time, and priorities in order to meet the demands of their fast-paced online courses. Students who have difficulty working with technology or time management may struggle with an online education program. Since all of the work for an online class is performed “outside the classroom” students may underestimate how much time and commitment an online class actually requires in order for the student to meet the expectations of the course.

Often applicants are hesitant that an online experience will not allow them to make connections with their peers the same way they do in a traditional classroom. The CSUN MSW cohort model helps foster connections between students; you’re taking the same classes with the same people every time. Online forums, discussion groups, presentations, and study groups all assist students in developing lasting friendships. In the first cohort, for our final research class we had a virtual party with wine, cheese, and whatever anyone wanted to “bring” to class.

[] Currently, CSUN only offers a program designed for traditional students (CSUN does not currently offer an advanced standing online MSW program), what is the typical academic background of the students in the program?

[Dr. Constantine Brown] The majority of our students have an undergraduate degree in social work, psychology, or sociology, but we have had students with undergraduate degrees in business, English, communications, urban planning, biology, and more. We welcome applicants with passion and human service experience who are in good academic standing and have completed any undergraduate degree. Our graduates have gone on to law school, pursued doctoral education, and successfully entered the workforce in the public and private sector.

[] 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 CSUN accept students nationally or only from certain states?

[Dr. Constantine Brown] Admission to the CSUN online MSW program is open to all applicants in state, out-of-state, and internationally, as long as they meet all admission requirements such as a baccalaureate degree from an accredited university, minimum GPA, English proficiency, and submit a complete application by the posted deadline. Being able to offer our online MSW program to a broader range of students from across the world helps better shape and inform our learning experience from a more global perspective in accordance to the mission and goals of our program.

[] Finally, with more universities starting to offer online MSW programs, why should students consider CSUN?

[Dr. Constantine Brown] California State University, Northridge (CSUN) is a vibrant, diverse university community committed to excellence in education and service to its students and the community. The CSUN MSW program is fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. The mission of the CSUN MSW program is to prepare professional social workers to promote the well-being of individuals, families and communities in the urban setting, which is fitting because the CSUN campus is located in the heart of the San Fernando Valley, a dynamic and diverse urban community in Los Angeles County.

Through coursework and field education components, students are exposed to social work practice with vulnerable and at-risk populations; an experience that stimulates CSUN MSW student interest in social advocacy and enhances their appreciation of the planned-change process. The CSUN MSW curriculum also emphasizes the development of creative and critical thinking to enable graduates to initiate, adapt, and evaluate policies and interventions appropriate to specific client groups.

The online cohort of CSUN’s MSW program is structured to intentionally deliver the same curriculum, content, and quality as our on-campus and off-site MSW cohorts. CSUN’s MSW program stands apart from other online MSW programs because of its strong emphasis on practice in the urban setting, access to relevant field education placements to allow students to demonstrate their growth and knowledge, and its lasting commitment to meet the needs of our students and the greater community.

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

Thank you Dr. Constantine Brown for your time and insight, and to Rachel Wu, MSW Online and Offsite Program Coordinator at CSUN, who helped with the responses to our questions!

Last updated: April 2020