CHADRON – There’s no doubt Bruce Hoem hopes the students in Chadron State College’s Social Work Professional Program serve as advocates for those who are at risk and who have challenges in life, while remaining empathetic and compassionate throughout the course of their internships. But in addition to the other traits, he wants students to embody one quality in particular: Professionalism.
“We have a reputation for turning out students who are absolutely professional. They operate with a high professional standard and when they go into agencies, they are respected,” said Hoem, who was awarded the Nebraska State College System Teacher Excellence Award in 2016. “I’ve heard a lot of positive feedback about how our students behave. When the students come into the program, they have to change the way they dress and the way they talk to one another. They are trained to be professional and they are the kind of people employers want to hire.”
Students in the Social Work program get an opportunity to put their professionalism to good use during their senior internship, which doubles as a Capstone project. Hoem said students usually begin the Social Work Professional Program at the end of their sophomore or junior years. The first two semesters deal with the development and execution of the annual Social Work Conference. Following that, students spend their final semester in the 10-hour course, Field Practicum (SW 464), and two more hours in the Professional Seminar (SW 463).
Hoem, who begins talking to students about their preferred internship placement as soon as they arrive on campus, assigns them to various agencies in a three-state region. He said the students average 36 hours a week and remain in their internships from January to May.
“I try to arrange for students to be where they’d like to go, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” he said. “Students work hard in this program. They’re full time students and average 530 hours in an agency setting. Everything is geared toward this internship for students.”
Since the internship is the main focus, Hoem admits there’s a lot of work that goes into each placement. Each student meets with Hoem and the agency where he or she is placed prior to the internship. The two-hour meeting covers several topics, but Hoem reinforces what was discussed when students met with him to set up a learning contract that contains specific goals.
During the internship, Hoem meets with students individually and once a week during their seminar session on Friday afternoons.
“I admit I micromanage [internships], but I don’t want the employer to have any questions. The agencies know that from beginning to end they know what to expect from Chadron State College and its students,” Hoem said.
Hoem said many agencies in the area enjoy benefitting from CSC social work students, including hospice and Job Corps in Chadron, Regional West Hospital in Scottsbluff, a Children’s Home and a men’s prison in Torrington, Wyoming, and the women’s prison in Lusk, Wyoming, as well as several agencies dealing with child protective services, adoption services, the school system and the Bureau of Indian Affairs in South Dakota.
Recent Chadron State College Social Work graduate, Kiran Mand, said her internship was incredibly influential.
“It gave me an opportunity to apply my education in real work situations, as opposed to theoretical challenges in the classroom,” Mand said. “Even though the internship lasted only four months, I gained new perspectives from clients and mentors, as well as learning how to remain professional and ethical.”
In addition to learning different perspectives, Mand, who is currently a graduate student at Our Lady of the Lake University Worden School of Social Service, said the internship gave her an opportunity to learn outside the classroom.
“I learned how to be adapt quickly to my environment through working with students from various backgrounds. Each day was different because of new clients or overall tasks that needed to be accomplished. Social work is a very versatile field, and the internship helped me gain confidence, problem solving skills, communicative skills, and even the importance of self-care,” she said. “I was able to take what I learned from each class at Chadron State and relate it to how I can be a better social worker in the future.”
As an added bonus, Hoem says students have a good chance of securing a job with the agency where they have their internships.
“Many internships are not paid, but I would say six out of 10 times, students are offered a job. It’s pretty unusual for them not to have a job offer once they’re done with the internship,” he said.
While Hoem can point to any number of success stories from the Social Work Professional Program, he’s most proud to see his former students making a difference wherever they are.
“Honestly, we’ve got all kinds of success stories,” he said. “Our graduates are trained in a lot of situations and can deal with a lot of things. They are familiar with death and dying, the law, child protective services and how to treat elderly people. They can engage any population and that is what makes them unique.”
—Alex Helmbrecht, Director of College Relations