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ASU Online social work program allows students to make a difference before graduating


Side-by-side portraits of ASU Online students Carl Reed (left) and Katelynn Johnson.

ASU Online students Carl Reed (left) and Katelynn Johnson.

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August 24, 2023

Some students dream of making an impact after graduation, but Carl Reed didn’t want to wait.

The former music teacher based in Southern California went through a career change and decided to delve into social work to make a difference in his community.

An organization in San Diego offered him a position, under one condition: Would he be willing to work with military veterans?

The answer was a resounding "yes." This was the opportunity Reed had been waiting for.

“My dad’s a veteran,” he said. “My son-in-law is a Marine. My kids are in the Naval Sea Cadet program. I’ve been around the military my whole life even though I did not serve personally.”

Reed discovered he had a true passion for the work, but if he was going to make it his life’s work, his impact would be limited without a master’s degree.

The Master of Social Work (MSW) through ASU Online is designed to prepare students like Reed, now an alum, to advance in their careers before they graduate.

'Where the rubber hits the road'

Social work fulfills various needs, from working with an aging population to providing mental health services to managing programs designed to help people cope with problems in their everyday lives. And becoming a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) means getting experience in a clinical setting is essential. Through field internships, students can do that without missing a beat.

Each student in the MSW program completes two field experiences as part of their coursework. These placements accumulate at least 960 hours of field internship, resulting in well-rounded experiences for future licensed social workers. 

Almost like a medical residency or law clerkship, during field placements, students are supervised alongside a social worker while supporting an issue and building their practice skills.

“Field internship is where the rubber hits the road, so to speak,” said Marcos Martinez, online program coordinator and assistant teaching professor in the School of Social Work at Arizona State University. “This is where (students) get to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned and developed in the classroom.”

Reed found both of his field placements through Sonia, a student placement software system available to students within the program. 

Additionally, he obtained his National Provider Identifier (NPI) for Medi-Cal and Medicare billing and completed Cerner training for medical records, opening the door to completing behavioral health assessments (BHAs), triage assessments and, ultimately, therapy. 

“That’s a lot more than I expected,” Reed said. “I didn’t know I was going to get that whole level of (preparation). So basically, when I graduate, I’m already set up to work on my licensure, and while I’m doing that I could be a therapist. It’s amazing. I just love this.”

Flexibility and accessibility: A winning combination

Katelynn Johnson joined the Master of Social Work program from Cheyenne, Wyoming, after completing her bachelor’s degree in psychology at her local university. 

“I did so much better in my bachelor’s degree than I did in high school because I was so passionate about psychology,” she said. “I loved everything about it. But then when I was done, there’s not a whole lot you can do with a bachelor’s in psych. I decided social work seemed like the best option for me. I found Arizona State University, and I enrolled.”

Choosing to get her master’s degree online was an easy decision.

While working and studying full time, Johnson moved across the country — and then back. Having the flexibility of online coursework made pursuing a graduate degree manageable.

“I can’t imagine doing an in-person program and working full time,” Johnson said. “I just don’t think that would be doable at all. Online is flexible. It works with your schedule. I can do my classes when I have time and there’s no obligation to attend a lecture at a certain time. It’s just all accessible when you need it.”

While pursuing her degree, Johnson found work experiences that aligned with her career goals.

Working at a local psychiatric hospital, followed by a placement supporting young adults with their mental health, offered Johnson valuable insights and the work experience needed to prepare the alum for life after graduation.

A growing profession

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that social worker jobs will continue to grow by 9%, “faster than average for all occupations.” 

“There are more licensed social workers than there are psychologists,” said Elizabeth Lightfoot, director and Distinguished Professor of Social Policy at the School of Social Work. “People get their degree in psychology and don’t really realize that they need to essentially get their PhD to be a psychologist. The pivot often happens into a master’s of social work because it’s a two-year degree and that’s a much faster way to become a licensed clinician.”

As a licensed social worker, Johnson won’t be limited to clinical practice. The program teaches students that social work extends beyond one-on-one therapy, giving them the tools needed to address community needs on a macro-political and legislative level via grant writing, advocacy and other strategies. 

“The program has taught me that the resources across the United States are widely different, and in Wyoming, I would argue that this is the most difficult state to practice social work,” Johnson said. “I’m taking what I’ve learned in school and applying program evaluation and advocacy to really advocate for the need for more services everywhere, not just in Wyoming. So it’s just knowing now what to do about it and how to advocate for that change.”

The ability to impact lives and improve individuals’ outcomes is the fuel that keeps her — and others’ — passion for social work alive. 

“It’s rewarding; I think that’s the best word to describe it,” Johnson said. “I feel like with social work professions, in general, we know that you can get compassion fatigue or social work burnout. But when you’re doing something that you love, you leave work feeling so empowered for other people and yourself, that burnout just kind of goes away. It feels good, and it just makes me happy to be able to support people.”

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