Campus: Dominguez Hills -- August 28, 2006

CSUDH Takes on Diversity Issues in New Master's Degree

Special and Specific Social Work Program Being Built from Ground Up

Social work, no matter how well trained in the principles a social worker or counselor is, cannot work with a one-size-fits-all approach…especially in Southern California. California State University, Dominguez Hills will tackle that issue with its new Master's of Social Work degree. The degree will focus on the social needs particular to such ethnically, culturally, and socioeconomically diverse areas as south Los Angeles County and the South Bay. That part of the county has one of the most diverse populations in the United States, and the university's student population, and the population served by the university, are among the most diverse in the nation.

Students will be immersed in the study of cultures, attitudes, outlooks, mores, and standards that can affect how they treat clients. What communicates well with someone from one group may not communicate at all equally well with someone from another group, even if, on the surface, the issue appears to be the same.

As explained by Larry Ortiz, professor of social work and director of the MSW program, the framework of the new degree "is a way of analyzing and critiquing theories as they apply to specific groups of people. We hope to produce a social work professional who understands not only theory, but the level of critique that they have to use in order to appropriately intervene with a particular person."

The two concentrations offered are "Children, Youth and Families" and "Community Health/Mental Health." The program aims to increase students' understanding of the underlying causes and resulting effects of discrimination and stereotyping from a variety of perspectives, while teaching ways of identifying strategies and interventions for these problems in social work practice.

One unique feature of the CSUDH MSW program is a multicultural faculty with expertise in contextually competent social work practice. Ortiz is hopeful that the ethnic and professional backgrounds of the faculty will enhance the learning experience for students.

"What this brings to the students is a reflection of the student body," he says. "In terms of students of color, success in the university is highly related to whether or not they have role models in the classroom. I've been doing research on Latinos in doctoral programs in social work, and there is a finding in the research that talks about the ideological fit between the student and the institution. What successful graduate students need is an institution that provides them an ideological fit, both structurally in terms of its programs, and faculty, with whom they can identify, who can provide support for first-generation graduate students of color."

The term "first-generation graduate students" refers to the student being the first in his or her family to become a graduate student. Many students at Dominguez Hills are first-time college students or first-time graduate students.

Mitch Maki, dean, College of Health and Human Services, commends the new faculty as "pioneers" for their willingness to take on the challenge of building the MSW program at Dominguez Hills from the ground up.

"A lot of professors want to go to a secure setting, with an established program," he says. "But the faculty that we're bringing on board saw the opportunity to create a brand new program from scratch. That's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for most professionals. They didn't want to join a ship that was already sailing. I think that innovative spirit will be passed on to our students."

Maki, who was a first-time college student, is himself is considered a leading expert on the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the ensuing successful efforts at restitution. He also coordinated an interorganizational collaboration between the UCLA School of Social Welfare and the public television station KCET to take "hotline" calls that dealt with racial and cultural factors after the 1992 civil unrest in Los Angeles County.

Dennis Corbin, assistant professor, comes to CSUDH with a background in direct clinical practice. He is a doctoral candidate at Howard University's School of Social Work and has a MSW from Clark Atlanta University. His research interests are HIV/AIDS, spirituality, international social work, social work practice and adolescent issues.

Susan Nakaoka, director of field practice received her M.A. in Asian American Studies and master's of social welfare in a dual-degree program at the UCLA. She has more than 15 years of experience in providing social services to low-income housing residents in the Los Angeles area and nationally. Most recently, she was the project director of a mental health training program at the University of Hawai`i School of Social Work.

Susan Einbinder, assistant professor of social work, received her M.S. and doctorate in social work from Columbia University. Her research and publications examine policies, programs, and services that affect the economic and social well-being of families with children, including collaboration among child welfare agencies. From 1993 to 2002, she was a faculty member at USC's School of Social Work, conducting research at a number of community-based social service agencies, including Beyond Shelter, an agency in Los Angeles that helps homeless families with children regain and retain permanent housing.

Ortiz received his MSW from Western Michigan University and doctorate degree from SUNY Buffalo. Previously he directed the MSW Program at West Chester University and the bachelor's in social work program at Our Lady of the Lake University. Most recently he was on the faculty at the University of Maryland School of Social Work. His areas of research and writing are program evaluation, community practice and issues related to cultural diversity.

Maki describes the benefits for students of learning from a faculty as diverse as the clients they will one day serve as social work professionals.

"A faculty that appreciates the importance of culture, and understands how to work across and within it, has a foundation to teach effective social work, with not only ethnic diversity, but in diversity in terms of gender, age, lifestyle, sexual orientation and abilities," he says. "Social work is about people, and people are about culture."

Contacts: Russ Hudson, Media Relations Coordinator, (310) 243-2455/2001

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