Fort Hays State University has provided educational opportunities in southwest Kansas with the opportunity for students to earn a Bachelor of Social Work degree within the community for more than a decade.

Recently, through the Dodge City Cohort Program, 12 Dodge City students graduated through FHSU on May 17.

FHSU provides face-to-face classes taught by core faculty and adjunct instructors in three southwest Kansas communities as the only institution of higher learning in western Kansas.

According to FHSU instructor and cohort coordinator Rekala Tuxhorn, the BSW Cohort programs allow students who have already invested in their community, to stay and give back through service delivery as a social worker. The first of many BSW Cohorts started in Garden City, which is currently in the fifth cohort cycle, which began in 2006.

The Dodge City Cohort Program started in 2016.

"Each FHSU BSW student completes a minimum of 500 practice hours in various social service agencies during their final semester," Tuxhorn said. "The practicum provides students an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills learned in the classroom at actual social service agencies."

The economic and service contribution of the recent Dodge City BSW graduates this spring, amounted to more than 6,000 hours and between $60,000 and $90,000.

"The students were placed in eight different agencies and institutions throughout Dodge City," Tuxhorn said. "It is very common for FHSU BSW students to be offered positions at the agencies where they completed their practicums.

"This allows students to be employed immediately upon graduating and passing the licensure exam."

As the students become licensed, the number of Ford County social workers at the bachelor level will double, increasing a much needed number of social workers for southwest Kansas.

"I grew up in Dodge City," said BSW graduate Leslie Lima. "I am a DCHS graduate. I left once and came back. This is where my roots are, where I belong.

"I want to give back to this unique, diverse and full of opportunities community that has supported me and watched me grow."

BSW graduate Kaitlyn Fernandez said, "The biggest thing the Dodge City BSW cohort provided for me was an amazing education without having to travel outside of Dodge City.

"I am a wife, mother, and work full time, so without this program coming to Dodge I don’t know that I would have been able to further my education.

"I also have become very educated and connected with our community resources as well as building relationships with other social workers in our community and surrounding areas."

Social workers are employed at various locations, such as mental health agencies, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, addiction treatment centers and court systems.

"There is a need in my community for bilingual social workers," Lima said. "I plan to continue my education and become a licensed therapist. The need became apparent in my years as a school resource officer for more people in the helping professions."

FHSU provides cohort students a $500 scholarship each semester for their face-to-face classes through the AccessUS grant program.

According to Tuxhorn, tuition and fees for the Bachelor’s in Social Work Cohort program at FHSU are under $11,000, compared to the University of Kansas at $23,000-plus, Kansas State University at $20,000-plus and Wichita State University at $16,000-plus.

"My first year was intimidating with a lot of unknowns at the schools as it pertained to establishing where I fit in," Lima said. "I don’t like to feel that way. I asked about attending courses in the realm of trauma-informed practices and forensic interviewing, such as ChildFirst, put on by the Western Kansas Child Advocacy Center.

"I felt better equipped to talk to and help kids in crisis. In those trainings, I liked giving people and kids the opportunity to be able to talk about what they have been through. Listening to professionals talk in those trainings I realized social work was an area in which I could continue to grow as an officer, help people and have a plan for retirement."

Offered on the ground at Dodge City Community College, the Dodge City Cohort program is a three-year part-time program through FHSU, with the next program coming August 2019.

"I would recommend this program to anyone interested in furthering their education or helping others," Fernandez said. "This program has amazing professors and staff that want to see you succeed and make a difference. Classes are offered one evening a week and online, so it is doable to fit into a busy schedule."

Beginning in the summer of 2020, FHSU will launch a Master’s of Social Work program in western Kansas.

"The clinically focused MSW program at FHSU will provide a cost-effective solution to the demand for clinical social workers in western Kansas and improve access to health and mental health care for residents in the western portion of the state," Tuxhorn said.

Tuxhorn added that only 4 percent of the Master’s and Clinical Social Workers, live and work in the western half of the state.

The upcoming master's program will help fill that need in the area.

If anyone is interested in learning more information or joining the 2019 Dodge City Social Work Cohort or questions about other social work degree options, contact Tuxhorn at rgtuxhorn@fhsu.edu or visit www.fhsu.edu/socialwork.

 

To contact the writer, email vmarshall@dodgeglobe.com.