Tarleton Graduates First Social Work Cohort at RELLIS Campus

Graduates from the first RELLIS campus social work cohort are, from left, Courtney Apostolo, Felisha Tapia, Alex Tobar-Flores (below); Mattie McQuary (above), Emily Allday (above), Robin Afshar.

STEPHENVILLE — The first social work cohort at Tarleton State University’s RELLIS campus graduated last week with real world experience that will carry the students into graduate school and new careers.

The six students received their bachelor of social work degrees during commencement ceremonies last Friday in Bryan, concluding four semesters of community-based hands-on learning. 

In addition to classes, the students put in a combined 2,700 internship hours working with contracted field placement agencies, applying their generalist social work skills learned in the program. They also worked another combined 600 volunteer hours with community partners.

“The impact of their work has been far reaching,” said Josephine Chaumba, BSW department head. “They have worked hard to achieve their goal despite a global pandemic and transitions. We look forward to hearing about their future successes.”

Three of the graduates are heading to jobs in the field. The other three plan to pursue a master’s degree in social work.

Alexandra Tobar-Flores, Robin Afshar, Emily Allday and Mattie McQuary partnered with the Texas Long-Term Care Ombudsman program, working with nursing and assisted living facilities while conducting research on the lack of awareness for long-term care. They won first place for their poster presentation on the subject at a national conference in Birmingham, Ala., and won the Mit Joyner Gerontology Award for their research on the elderly.

Felisha Tapia and Courtney Apostolo worked in a community partnership with Scott’s House Child Advocacy Center, a nonprofit organization serving children in need.

McQuary, Tobar-Flores, Afshar and Tapia also were inducted into the Phi Alpha honor society for social work.

Students interned with Tarleton’s Title IV-E Child Protective Services program with the state; Unbound, an international nonprofit helping children and the elderly; two hospice services and the RELLIS Academic Alliance food pantry, which provides grab-and-go lunch bags for students experiencing food insecurity.

“They did an amazing job at the food pantry, managing it by the end of the year on their own,” said Ted Lovato, BSW field director. The students ordered food and supplies and managed the bag preparation. And they recruited interested volunteers to take over the program for the next academic year, he added.

The cohort also participated in a poverty simulation through the Missouri Community Network. 

“They’re put in a certain family dynamic or situation and work through different real-life scenarios of people who are considered low income,” explained Dr. Ebony Lang, BSW director. “Students also participate as an agency that would work with that family, whether it be the child welfare system, childcare, the educational system or the food stamp office. So the students not only experience the poverty and walk through those systems, they participate as a system member to see how that interaction looks from that perspective.”

The students collaborated with nursing students at RELLIS to simulate being part of a care team in a hospital. Three of the students spent two weeks in Costa Rica last summer as part of the social work study abroad program, learning how agencies there help children and families.

The BSW program at RELLIS began in 2020 and produced its first single graduate in spring 2022. This graduating cohort of six will be followed by a cohort of two in August. A new cohort of six is expected to start this fall.

The program offers a specialized degree that prepares graduates for entry into direct human service professional positions. Hands-on, community-based learning begins in the junior year. Students complete a four-semester sequence of courses that result in a finished portfolio that can be used to document their achievement of the competencies. 

Graduates may seek state licensure as a qualified social worker. The BSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education.

To learn more, go to https://rellis.tamus.edu/degrees-by-institution/bachelor-of-social-work/.

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