CSUMB’s Master of Social Work program awarded multi-million dollar grant

Master of Social Work team members Maria Renie Lena

(From left) Renie Rondon-Jackson, Maria Gurrola, Lena Allen from Master of Social Work program

February 14, 2023

By Mark Muckenfuss

A new $3.5 million grant will help CSU Monterey Bay’s Master of Social Work program fill a significant gap in local behavioral health services.

CSUMB was one of 23 colleges and universities receiving a portion of the $59.4 million Social Work Education Capacity Expansion grant, distributed by the California Department of Health Care Access and Information. CSUMB’s grant was the fifth largest amount given out by the agency.

The grant is designed to help expand CSUMB’s existing graduate program  to provide behavioral health care through new and expanded social work programs, especially programs training students to serve children and youth.  

“It’s going to have a great impact,” said Maria Gurrola, chair of the Department of Social Work. “We will be able to increase staff. We will be able to increase recruitment of students. This will create the environment for student support and success and much needed services to our surrounding community.”

Gurolla said the grant is largely a result of the increased need for social services due to Covid-19, promoted by the National Association of Social Workers. The money, she said, will allow the program to add three adjunct instructors to its seven-member faculty, and a field supervisor, and increase the number of students admitted to the program this fall from 50 to 74. In each of the four remaining years of the grant, the fall cohort will be 62 students, an increase of 12 over the current level.

CSUMB’s Master of Social Work program was established in 2009. So far, 350 students have received degrees. This spring 52 more will graduate, adding to more than 400 social work professionals. Many have gone on to local careers, helping families and communities in the tri-county region.

Monterey, Santa Cruz and San Benito counties currently have a high need when it comes to qualified social workers.  

“The vacancy rate is very high,” Gurrola said. “Currently, we don’t have enough social workers or supervisors available for our students to complete their two years of practicum, which is like an internship. This grant will allow us to hire another supervisor to support agencies that don’t have one.”

Harald Barkhoff, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Services, said CSUMB is working closely with local agencies to meet the need. 

“We have a very unique environment with underserved areas and a very diverse population,” Barkhoff said. “Serving that population is something that our program and our college have been not only an integral part of, but we’ve been out in front of it. But we need more resources and this grant gives us those resources. So, that’s exciting.”

The grant comes at a particularly important moment as President Vanya Quiñones implements her plans for CSUMB.

“I’m excited that President Quiñones has such a clear agenda for our university,” Barkhoff said. “Her ideas are really in line with what we’re already doing.” 

In the long run, it is the community that will benefit, said Gurrola. Each student in the program, she said, must complete 960 hours of internship during their two years of study, working with those needing social services. She said when that number is multiplied by 24, the effect becomes apparent. 

“And that’s just for the first year,” she said. “Over the next five years, we’ll have a total of 72 more students. The impact they are going to have is going to be huge.”

She expects the majority of those students will stay in the area after graduation, continuing to benefit the community.  

CSUMB’s efforts are part of a broader, statewide effort to improve mental health support for families and youth, according to Human Services Agency Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly.

“Access to behavioral health care and expanding this workforce pipeline in California is critically important,” Ghaly said. “This new grant program is an important investment to train social workers who play a crucial role in behavioral health care delivery.”

Barkhoff said CSUMB will be key in meeting the need and that its students are up to the task.

“In social work, we are here to serve,” he said. “This grant will not only help us to do that, but it will lead to more ideas and innovations in our program. It’s an exciting time.”