Students make history as they begin work on new degree options 

A small but mighty cohort of students at Pittsburg State is making history this fall: they’re the first to begin work on a new master’s degree in social work option through a unique partnership with the University of Kansas. 

The partnership, which offers an MSW for students from fields other than social work, is making it efficient and affordable. 

Among them: Dominick Fonseca, who first earned a degree in exercise science and therapeutic recreation, and Ivorie Maloney, who first earned a degree in sociology. 

They attend classes in PSU’s social work program on Mondays and Wednesdays and in two semesters will earn a Foundation Graduate Certificate. They’ll then progress to the second year of the program, which is delivered by KU’s School of Welfare. 

For both, the choice was the result of a calling. 

“Earning this degree means working in a career to help kids,” said Fonseca, who is able to both attend classes and work as a paraprofessional at a local elementary school. “I’m doing it for the betterment of kids and families.” 

Maloney has a five-year-old child, lives in Neodesha, and commutes to Pittsburg State.  

“It’s a short commute rather than having to uproot my life and move to Lawrence,” she said. 

She has several years of field experience working at agencies that focus on family preservation and child services and wanted to earn a degree that would allow her just the right fit in her career.  

“I wanted to make a difference in family preservation and helping to change policy, and this will help me do that,” she said. 

Advanced Standing option 

Through the partnership, students who already had a bachelor’s degree in social work are working on their MSW through the Advanced Standing option. This option is available to students who have a BSW, and it allows them to complete the MSW in one calendar year. 

The degree is taught by faculty from the University of Kansas who come to the Pittsburg State campus every other Saturday, with alternate Saturdays delivered by Zoom. 

It has a clinical focus, preparing students to practice in a variety of settings like mental health centers, hospitals, schools, hospice, addiction treatment, and Veterans Affairs. 

It was the perfect choice for Jeff Franklin, who graduated from Pittsburg State in December 2020 with a bachelor’s degree and wanted to advance in his career. 

As a children’s case manager for Labette Center for Mental Health Services in Parsons, about a 30-minute drive from Pittsburg, he chose the Advanced Standing Option offered at Pittsburg State because it was close to home. 

“I didn’t have to travel far to get an education,” he said. “And I like it because I feel at home on the Pitt State campus.” 

Growing need 

The new partnership was lobbied for by Associate Professor Kristen Humphrey, who directs Pittsburg State’s social work program. 

“The need for more individuals with master’s degrees in the fields of social work and mental health has grown recently — schools, mental health centers, and others are calling it a shortage. We hear that often,” she said.   

Social work at the clinical level requires an advanced degree, and until now, that would have been impossible to earn in the Pittsburg area.   

“This partnership allows students to stay here, in Pittsburg, to earn their master’s in a summer, fall, and spring semester," Humphrey said. “We want to be able to keep them here; they’re already invested in the community.” 

Happy with their choices 

Fonseka is happy with his decision. 

“The professors push you out of your comfort zone so you’re more well-rounded,” he said. “I feel both challenged and supported.” 

So is Maloney. 

“And all of the faculty are so great at answering our questions and guiding us,” she said. “They’re also very understanding about hiccups we have along the way. They want you to be successful.” 

They have formed a bond, they say. 

“We all have different perspectives, different backgrounds, different experiences that we bring to the table,” Fonseka said. “We help each other.” 

And they feel as if they made a career choice that will be rewarding personally and professionally. 

“There’s always going to be a need for people like us,” Maloney said. 

Learn more: 

Social Work Program