Flexible program options allow social work students to study at their own pace

Students like Kirsten Allen save time and money by participating in UC’s Accelerated MSW program

When Kirsten Allen started at the University of Cincinnati as a first-year student in 2015, she wasn’t sure if she wanted to study psychology or social work. During her first semester as an exploratory student, she interviewed working professionals in both fields to get a better feel for each profession. As she began to lean into social work, a personal experience solidified her decision: Her sister became involved in a domestic violence relationship. After the relationship ended, Allen realized the secondary trauma it caused her family, but a lack of resources resulted in an isolating, difficult recovery.

“My family and I would go to places that specialized in domestic violence, but they usually only worked with victims,” Allen says. “That made me think, you know, That’s something I would want to do. I would like to offer support groups for families who have secondary trauma, so they have someone who’d know how they’re feeling and tell them that they’re not alone, because that’s sometimes how I felt.”

At the end of this month, Allen will graduate with her Master of Social Work from the UC College of Allied Health Sciences, a degree she completed in just one year, thanks to the college’s accelerated full-time program. In order to be eligible for the accelerated program, students need a 3.25 GPA, letters of recommendation, academic references, and a bachelor’s degree in social work, which Allen earned from UC in May of 2020.

Flexible program options bolster workforce

Students who don’t have a Bachelor of Social Work can participate in the college’s full- or part-time Master of Social Work Program, which take two and three years to complete, respectively. This fall, the college is also launching a part-time accelerated program that can be completed in less than two years. 

“We’ve had everything from architects to environmental scientists to biologists decide that they want to change careers and get their master’s in social work, and they can do that, but they have to take the two-year program, because they need the foundational courses that are built into the first year,” explains Shauna Acquavita, PhD, MSW, director of the accelerated program. 

These flexible program options are one way the college is working to combat a serious lack of social workers. According to the 2019 Bureau Labor Statistics, Ohio is in need of 3,000 social workers, Kentucky needs 1,300, and Indiana needs 2,400. At the same time, the number of jobs in social work is expected to grow 11 percent between 2018 and 2028. 

We really want to build capacity for the behavioral health workforce, and in order to do that, you need to have flexible options for people who are working or coming out of school and want to go full time

Shauna Acquavita, PhD, MSW, director of the accelerated program.

"A master’s program is challenging; it’ll definitely push you, but we want to be supportive and provide every option that we can for our students in order for them to be successful" says Acquavita. 

Collaboration is key for social work students

One of the biggest highlights of the Accelerated Master of Social Work program, Allen and Acquavita say, is the opportunity to collaborate with students who are in the two- and three-year master’s programs. After completing the foundational courses, students in the non-accelerated programs will take classes with the accelerated students during their final year, when each student selects one of three concentrations—health and aging, children and families, or mental health—and simultaneously completes an internship.

“They’re able to experience other students who have different backgrounds,” Acquavita says. “Biologists have a different perspective than those who come to the program with a law or nursing degree, so there’s just a wide variety of people who they’re able to work with.”

Allen, who concentrated on children and families during her master’s, also benefited from working alongside pharmacy and counseling students as a PRI-Care Fellow. The fellowship program, which covered a portion of Allen’s tuition costs, required that she take three extra courses and complete an internship with WinMed Health Services that involved learning how to screen patients for alcohol and drug use. Throughout her undergraduate and graduate careers, Allen has also interned with the Cincinnati Police Department’s Victims Assistance Liaison Unit, where she supported families with ongoing homicide cases; interned with Child Focus at Wasserman Day Treatment, where she worked with children with behavioral concerns; and also served as a graduate assistant for two professors.

“Every experience I’ve had has kind of pushed me in some direction,” says Allen, who after graduation hopes to work with patients and families experiencing trauma or violence in either a hospital or criminal justice setting. Regardless of where she lands, she’s thankful for her education at UC. “I absolutely loved the accelerated program,” Allen says. 

The college is really good at incorporating different ideas and people into one environment, even with COVID-19.”

Kirsten Allen, acclerated MSW student

Do Work That Matters.

Learn more about flexible program options offered by the University of Cincinnati Master of Social Work program. 

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