It’s a very large number of hours. It’s also a surprise to most people.
UNLV’s School of Social Work practicum students contribute more than 110,000 hours of service annually at a wide spectrum of agencies and organizations in southern Nevada.
The students are part of the school’s Social Work Field Education Program, which enables them to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom in real-world settings while benefitting the community, according to Carlton Craig, the director of UNLV’s School of Social Work.
“The practicum students are placed in locations all over the valley, but they tend to work behind the scenes, so people are often surprised to learn the extent of their contributions to the community," Craig said.
The practicum program, which started in 1970, currently places about 220 participants each year. At each practicum location, students are supervised by field instructors, who are typically licensed social workers. The students usually choose their locations based on their interests and specialties.
The School of Social Work partners with more than 60 different agencies and organizations that host the practicum students. The organizations address such community issues as child welfare, health care, homelessness, mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse. They also work with geriatric, hospice, and social service providers.
The program prepares students for social work practice in a variety of settings, including with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities, according to Marde Closson, the school’s director of field education.
“The field practicum sequence provides students with a unique opportunity to realize the goals and objectives of the program through concrete, practicum, and community-based interactions with clients and practicing professionals,” Closson said.
Nanette Frink, a social work supervisor at the Nevada Department of Health and Human Services, hosts social work practicum students each year and values their contributions. She works in the Aging and Disability Services Division and focuses primarily on helping clients whose lives are affected by disability.
“Students bring a fresh perspective to our work,” Frink said. “Our field instructors learn just as much from the students as the students learn from the field instructors. The student is welcomed into the family and usually feels like part of our team. We are always hiring and have had numerous students who have chosen [the division] to begin their career.”
The practicum also serves as a workforce pipeline for the participating agencies, which often hire the students they have helped train.
Former social work practicum student and UNLV alumna Jill Decker valued her experience.
“I was able to learn from other students, faculty, and professors,” said Decker, who now works with adolescents in a treatment facility in Salt Lake City, Utah. “It was a great experience.”
Partnering organizations currently include the Clark County School District; Veterans Administration; several Clark County agencies, including Family Services, the District Attorney, and the Public Defenders offices; Nevada Homeless Alliance; Desert Parkway Behavioral Health; Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth; East Valley Family Services; Red Rock Psychological Services; St. Jude’s Ranch for Children; and the Nevada Divisions of Welfare and Support Services and Aging and Disability.