Interview with Dr. Elaine Rinfrette – MSW Program Director at Edinboro University

About Dr. Elaine Rinfrette, RN, MSW, PhD, LCSW-R, LSW: Dr. Rinfrette holds a MSW from Boston University and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York. She is an assistant professor and director of the MSW program at Edinboro University. Dr. Rinfrette teaches a variety of courses including: Family Practice, Mental Health, Research Methods, and Advanced Social Work Practice with Families. She is licensed in the state of New York (LCSW-R) and in Pennsylvania (LSW). Dr. Elaine Rinfrette was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] Dr. Rinfrette, I noticed you have a background in nursing, what made you decide to leave nursing to enter the field of Social Work? Do you see this as a common career progression for professionals in the field of nursing?

[Dr. Rinfrette] I saw a great deal of trauma in my nursing practice and the impact it had on patients and families. I saw the work social workers were doing and thought it would be a good match for me. I was right. No, most nurses would get a master degree in nursing but there are a fair number who also make this type of change.

[] Currently, there are only a handful of universities that offer full-time online MSW programs. How is the program at Edinboro University structured?

[Dr. Rinfrette] Students enter the program in cohorts and at the present time classes use asynchronous instruction. We are looking in to some combination [of synchronous and asynchronous instruction] in the future but that is not going to happen soon. The program is designed to be a [full-time] 2 year program. If students stop, they have to wait a year until the courses they need roll around again. Students receive the same education as those who attend the on-campus program; they have all the same courses except for one that is not offered on-line.

[] Edinboro’s online MSW program focuses on providing services to families. For students who are interested in the field of social work, but who have not decided on a concentration, can you give overview of family social work and why students should consider entering this field?

[Dr. Rinfrette] The program has a family focus but students are prepared to work in any field of practice as the courses have a generalist approach and field placements are in all types of agencies. So students work in mental health settings, hospice, substance abuse setting, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and any variety of other settings. [View a copy of the curriculum .]

[] 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. Rinfrette] Students need to consider what they can realistically do before entering an MSW program. We require 18 hours/week of field in the fall and spring semesters so that is a lot of time. Some students are able to do their field placements in the agencies where they work, if they can have a completely different experience and a different supervisor, and that seems to make it easier for them to balance their time. Students need to have flexible work hours in order to complete the placement as it is very rare to find one that has placement hours in the evening or on weekends.

[] 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. Rinfrette] I think it is advisable to do some sort of volunteer work or paid work in the field before entering an MSW program. Social work is a rewarding profession but very demanding. Perspective students should have some real life experience that gives them some insight into how they will handle this work.

[] Edinboro University currently has both a regular program and an advanced standing program, what is the typical academic background of the students in the regular program?

[Dr. Rinfrette] The students in the regular program come from a wide variety of fields, are at many different stages in their lives, and have different life experiences. I don’t think there is any common field that they come from. The biggest motivation seems to be that they have recognized the need to do more for the populations they are working with and they see social work as the means to accomplish that goal.

[] What are the biggest challenges today for family social workers and do you see the challenges changing over time? How has greater access to information and the rise of social media (both the positives and negatives) impacted the field of social work?

[Dr. Rinfrette] Social workers are constantly being asked to do more and to be current with what are best practices. Social media can be a source of support for many social workers and clients and a source of information. The risks are that it can also be an avenue where they can get into unsupportive environments and get lots of misinformation. One has to be very careful that they are on reputable sites.

[] 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 Edinboro University accept students nationally or only from certain states?

[Dr. Rinfrette] We have students all over the country and in other countries.

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

[Dr. Rinfrette] We have a program that is geared toward completion in 2 years time for the regular program. Students can get their degree in a timely manner. It is also set up so the student is not overwhelmed during the semester. Full-time is 9 credits rather than 15 like it is in many other programs. This is accomplished by going all year for the 2 years. The advanced standing program is set up the same way and is a 15 month program.

In addition, we have excellent professors who are really dedicated to the online program and to making sure online students get the same high quality education as do on campus students. [We] get good feedback from students and that students who are applying often say they have heard great things about our program. We try very hard to give every student a quality education.

Students who are interested in getting more information about Edinboro’s online MSW program can visit Edinboro University’s website  or contact the Department of Social Work at (814) 732-2013.

Thank you Dr. Rinfrette for your time and insight!

Last updated: April 2020