Social Work and Counseling Programs Team Up at WNMU to Work with the NM Expanding Opportunities Project
Two Western New Mexico University master’s degree programs, the Master of Arts in Counseling and the Master of Social Work, have teamed with the New Mexico Expanding Opportunities Project (EOP) to support graduate students who plan to provide mental health care in the state’s school system. Sponsored by the NM Department of Education’s Safe and Healthy Schools Bureau, the EOP “aims to recruit and retain school-based mental health (SBMH) professionals to serve the needs of students across New Mexico, focusing on rural and frontier communities with a high percentage of at-risk and vulnerable student populations,” according to the program’s website. The program is funded with a grant from the United States Department of Education.
The EOP funds current graduate students in behavioral health fields as well as SBMH providers that are already licensed. Awardees of the grant are required to commit to working for at least two years in a New Mexico school. While the EOP was originally designed to assist those working in, or planning to work in, rural, high-need schools, the program was recently expanded to allow those in New Mexico’s cities to apply as well.
Many WNMU students who have received the EOP grant are using it as income while completing their graduate degree requirements. Assistant Professor of Counseling William Lane noted that “many of our students are nontraditional students and need to have an income” while working on their master’s coursework, practicum or internship. “It is a really great opportunity for our mental health and behavioral health students,” said Lane.
Adriane Torrez, a WNMU MSW student who is currently enrolled in the EOP, said that the grant money she has received will be a tremendous help when it comes time to complete the 900-hour practicum required for the MSW degree. While she is currently working full time while in the program, once she starts the practicum, she will be working in the school system for part of each day, and the EOP funds will help to compensate for the income she is not earning. Ultimately, Torrez wants to help young people advocate for their needs, and she wants to help parents advocate on their children’s behalf, especially when they face disabilities or other challenges. “There are things you can do to help your kids excel,” she said.
Lane and Assistant Professor of Social Work Cindy Simon are both pleased that WNMU graduate students are eligible for EOP whether they are pursuing a master’s degree in Counseling or in Social Work. Simon noted that the training may be different in the two disciplines, “but when it comes down to it, the code of ethics which drives everyone professionally has all the same elements.” Ultimately, what matters most is the outcome for New Mexico’s children, agreed Lane and Simon. Said Simon, “One of the things that is really great about [the collaboration on the EOP] is that both Dr. Lane and I understand that a rich behavioral health workforce is what is needed, so it doesn’t matter if you go through Social Work or you go through Counseling; what matters is that our K-12 kids can . . . get the help they need from trained and licensed professionals.”