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Graduates of the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus's master’s in social work program ready to succeed in growing, diverse profession

The criteria for admission to the master’s in social work (MSW) program at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus, says program Coordinating Chair Sarah Guadalupe, reflects what it takes to be a successful social worker.

Simply put, it takes a special calling.

"It takes someone special who is there to help and promote social justice, work on advocacy efforts for folks who are in marginalized groups and a have a sense of really wanting to work in the human services field,” Guadalupe said.

msw cohort

Eleven students will graduate in December with master’s in social work they earned at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus. Here they are with their professors.

Guadalupe is currently recruiting the next cohort of graduate students for the part-time master’s in social work program at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus. The application deadline is Oct. 15, and students will enter the program in January 2023, after the current cohort of 11 students graduates in December.

“Our Council on Social Work-accredited program offers a unique opportunity to prospective students to benefit from a highly personalized educational experience within the context of a cohort model, earmarked by peer support to optimize student success,” said Michiel Van Zyl, director of the USF School of Social Work.

“USF invests in this growing program by recruiting highly qualified faculty,” he said. “Students on the Sarasota-Manatee campus also benefit from the expertise of nationally and internationally recognized Social Work faculty on our Tampa campus.”

Brett Kemker, regional vice chancellor of academic affairs and student success at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus said, “The expansion of the MSW program at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus is designed to meet the increasing need for social workers in a variety of human services-related fields in this region of the state.

“Students benefit from the opportunity to work in the field while enhancing the quality of life of our citizens in our community,” Kemker said.

Angela Zinn, a social worker in the emergency room at Sarasota Memorial Hospital, will graduate with a MSW in December.

“I have learned so much as an MSW student at USF,” she said. “The professors at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus have been so supportive and inspirational. I have learned not only to be a better social worker but also a lot about myself. This has been a very insightful and empowering process.

“I would encourage anyone interested in behavioral or community sciences to pursue this program,” she said.

Another graduate student, Lauren Wangenstein, started the program six months after she graduated from the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus with a bachelor's degree in psychology in 2019.

"I was interested in working in the field of mental health. Several of my professors had educated me on the social work program," Wangenstein said.

The 24-course program, including field placements, runs eight consecutive semesters, a schedule favorable for students with full-time jobs. Classes are held on campus in the evenings and on Saturday mornings.

“We are looking for students who really want to be successful in a social work career,” said Guadalupe, noting that many students come to the program with no prior experience working in human services. “The really good thing about social work is the vast opportunities for careers afterwards, the broad spectrum of areas in which one can practice social work.”

Social workers are found working in a variety of settings, ranging from schools and child protection agencies to the criminal justice system to hospitals and nursing homes.

Zinn has worked in the medical field since graduating from USF with a bachelor’s in social work in 1990.

“I hope to be able to move to a leadership role after I receive my MSW,” said Zinn, who plans to keep working at the hospital. “I may also explore other areas of social work out of the hospital. With my MSW, I feel the options are endless.”

Wangenstein did her field work with outpatient behavioral program at HCA Sarasota Doctor's Hospital, performing a variety of duties including how to do assessments and run group therapy sessions. Her previous experience includes working as a child caregiver, as an advocate for a nonprofit substance abuse organization and in the restaurant industry.

"I am using these last few months of my time in the program to learn about the different organizations in the community and find the right job fit for my career goals and experience level," Wagenstein said.

Guadalupe said the program is designed to prepare graduates to meet the steady demand for social workers. Some students receive job offers while completing their fieldwork with agencies like local public school districts, Sarasota Memorial Hospital and Manatee Family Services.

“I actually have more agencies reaching out than I have students to match them with,” said Guadalupe. “I would say the community is really great in wanting to provide this educational opportunity.”

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects overall employment of social workers will grow by 12 percent between 2020 and 2030, faster than the average for all occupations. An average of about 78,300 openings a year during the decade is expected in the profession.

Factors driving that trend include social workers retiring and new demands created by the opioid epidemic, the growing aging population and hikes in school enrollments. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for social workers in hospitals and other health care settings.

Guadalupe said local human services agencies frequently reach out to USF and say, “‘Please send us interns, please can I come speak to your class because we need social workers.’ That’s telling me that we need more social workers out there with their licensure at a master’s level.”

For more information about the master’s in social work program at the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus, including admissions requirements, click here

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