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New Mexico State University
College Of Health and Social Services
Nursing, Public Health Sciences and Social Work

Current News

Spring 2013 College Assembly

SW Advisor Monica Montoya (l) and Dean Tilahun Adera (r)

SON Advisor Alyce Kolenovsky (l) receives recognition by Dean Tilahun Adera (r)

PHS Dept Head Mark Kittleson (l) Faculty Research Award winner Rebecca Palacios (c) with faculty research award and Dean Tilahun Adera (r)

SON Director Pam Schultz (l) presenting Evangelina Ramirez (c) with a faculty teaching award and Dean Tilahun Adera (r)

SON student Jena Berry

Dr. Timothy Barnet-Queen announces faculty awards for SSW

Dean Adera addresses the audience

NMSU's master of social work students provide service to Albuquerque agencies

NMSU’s Master of Social Work student Karen Longenecker, left, reviews information about her practicum with field instructor Monica Armas Aragon. Longenecker is working at UNM Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit for nine months. Longenecker is one of 45 students at the NMSU-Albuquerque Center providing non-paid services at various community agencies during their practicum. (NMSU photo by Jane Moorman)


Story by Jane Moorman, NMSU Communications

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the country, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics. New Mexico State University’s Master’s of Social work program is also growing. The university’s Albuquerque MSW program has grown from 12 to 58 students since 2001. This is in addition to the 97 students seeking a master’s in social work at NMSU’s Las Cruces campus.

Besides taking classes at the NMSU-Albuquerque Center these student contribute 21,375 hours of non-paid service annually to a variety of agencies that address people’s needs.

“The School of social work is committed to serving people through teaching, outreach, leadership, research and service,” said Gail Leedy, NMSU professor and MSW program coordinator in Albuquerque. “We want to ensure that our students have the knowledge, skills and values that they need in order to respond to the individuals, families, and communities. It is especially important that they have knowledge of the diverse culture of the Southwest.”

During their graduate school work, these students must participate in two nine-month practica where they work for 15 to 20 hours a week at human service agencies in the communities across northern and north-central New Mexico.

“This is a rigorous advance generalist program,” said Susan Burns, NMSU MSW field coordinator and assistant professor in Albuquerque. “Besides attending evening classes Monday through Thursday for four semesters, the student works two semesters at one agency and the final two semesters of their field work at another agency.”

The practicum gives the student the opportunity to apply the concepts and theories they have learned in the classroom to real-life situations.

Students have participated in internships throughout the Albuquerque and Santa Fe area, as well in communities as far reaching as Gallup, Grants and Tucumcari.

The agencies involved in the program include, among many, the Veterans Administration, in- and out-patient psychiatric centers and clinics, public school special education programs, child welfare In Home Services through New Mexico Children Youth and Families Department, correctional facilities, domestic violence agencies, private non-profit child welfare agencies, hospice and rehab centers, Native American charter schools and social services, health clinics, legal advocacy agencies and agencies that are committed to community program development.

“We couldn’t prepare these students for their careers without the partnership of our community agencies,” Burns said.

The School of social work’s practicum program, like those of other professional schools in the College of Health and Social Services, fulfills the NMSU’s land grant university mission by providing outreach through these collaborative relationships.

“The faculty is the research, teaching and service components of the university’s mission, while the internship or practicum is the university’s outreach, because our students are taking the knowledge they have gained in class, out to the people,” said Wanda Whittlesey-Jerome, an assistant professor at NMSU-Albuquerque Center and former site coordinator/associate field coordinator for the program.

NMSU’s MSW program in Albuquerque has collaborated with UNM Hospital’s Department of Pediatrics for the past six years. Monica Armas Aragon, director for the department’s developmental care program, says there are many benefits in being involved with the practicum program, one of which is helping develop qualified professionals, who will fill many roles as social workers.

The social work principles of empowerment and social and economic justice provide the foundation for this work. Social workers help people overcome some of life’s most difficult challenges: poverty, discrimination, abuse, addiction, physical illness, divorce, loss, unemployment, educational problems, disability, and mental illness.

Helping people has been a part of Karen Longenecker’s life.

“I have worked a variety of jobs helping people,” said Longenecker, one of this year’s 45 NMSU-Albuquerque Center students doing their practicum work this semester. “With my bachelor’s degree in Spanish, I’ve taught English and Spanish to migrant families, been a bilingual case workers at a homeless shelter in Denver and worked with domestic violence survivors and students.”

The Kansas native is currently working at UNM’s Newborn Intensive Care Unit under the supervision of Aragon, who serves as a NMSU field instructor.

“Being in the newborn intensive care unit is a high stress situation for the baby’s parents,” Longenecker said. “My role as the Family Infant Toddler program’s in-patient family services coordinator is to inform the patient’s family of the services available to them and help them enroll their child into the program.”

The FIT program provides services for children, age birth to 3 years old, with developmental delays or those who are at-risk of having a developmental delay, such as premature babies who are in the newborn intensive care unit. The program was established through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004.

“I really like working in an interdisciplinary setting,” she said. “In the unit there are physicians, nurses, developmental specialists and social workers, all focused on helping the premature infants survive, and helping their parents cope with the stress they are experiencing.”

Besides attending classes four nights a week and doing her practicum, Longenecker works part-time with a public health Home Visiting Program in Santa Fe where she works with first-time mothers and their babies from prenatal to 3 years of age.

“I’ve discovered I like working with this particular population, that’s why I wanted to continue my work with mothers and their babies during my practicum experience,” Longenecker said.

Aragon also serves as a field liaison, where she advises eight other NMSU MSW students during their practicum in areas of social work other than her own. The students are interning at public schools, All Faiths Receiving Home, a rehab center, and a rape crisis center.

“By being a field liaison, I have benefited personally because I have to stay informed on what is being taught in their classes and on research that is being done in the various areas of social work,” Aragon said. “I probably have read more professional books since I started with the NMSU program than I did in my own graduate program, because I have an obligation to be responsive to the students’ questions with up-to-date information and to set up the practicum in such a way that it is a learning experience.”

Another avenue of outreach performed by the MSW program is to provide continuing education for the field instructors and field liaisons.

“This is how we show our appreciation for the time they give our students,” Burns said. “Professionally, to keep their certification, social workers have to earn 30 CEUs every two years, including six units in cultural related training.”

The MSW-Albuquerque program provides a minimum of two training sessions each year, including a cultural awareness component during its spring session when agencies and students come together to plan for the next year’s field placement.

Burns says this training helps the field instructors teach their intern how essential cultural awareness is when working with clients in such a diverse state as New Mexico.

Another way the MSW program provides outreach to the community is through its faculty serving on advisory boards of various social justice organizations and by providing pro-bono support to the agencies where NMSU students intern.

“We are available to do program evaluation for the agencies collaborating with our program,” Whittlesey-Jerome said. “Often-times, we are consulted to provide ethics training, or other topics where they want an expert to speak.”

To learn more about the MSW program visit the NMSU-Albuquerque Center website’s video library,, and view a series of interviews regarding the program.

NMSU researcher studies ways to provide cleaner water to colonia residents

Professor of public health sciences

Rebecca Palacios, assistant professor, NMSU Department of Public Health Sciences


Story by Justin Bannister, NMSU Communications

People need water every day to survive. Unfortunately, clean water isn’t always available to many people living in undeveloped or underdeveloped areas in Dona Ana and El Paso counties, areas better known locally as colonias. That’s why a researcher from New Mexico State University is teaming with colleagues from the University of Texas-El Paso to see what can be done.

“Many people in these areas don’t have access to treated municipal water,” said Rebecca Palacios, an assistant professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences at NMSU. “There is a very high health risk for these people. Some of them dig their own wells, which tend to be shallow and produce contaminated water that isn’t sufficiently filtered.”

She said water contaminants in the region can originate from agricultural areas, industrial areas or even neighboring septic tanks that were not built to code. These contaminants don’t just make water unhealthy for drinking; it can be unhealthy for bathing, too, sometime causing skin rashes and sores. Even boiling the water during cooking won’t remove all contaminants.

For the project, she is working with researchers from other disciplines, including civil engineers W. Shane Walker, Ivonne Santiago and John Walton and public health researcher Joe Tomaka, each from UTEP. Their study, titled Point of Use Drinking Water Treatment in the Paso del Norte Region, will evaluate the effectiveness of installing point-of-use water treatment devices, specifically filters, in homes located in the colonias of Southern New Mexico and West Texas.

The study is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and is currently in its first phase where the researchers work with local community health workers, known as promotoras, to conduct focus groups to gain a better understanding of the living and water conditions in these communities which in turn will define the scope of the intervention project. Local water samples will also be tested in this phase to determine what kind of filtration devices will provide the best result.

“We are trying to access colonia residents who actually need water filtration,” she said. “We are working with our community health partners to try to map where these pockets of people are in the colonias.”

Aside from wells, other colonia residents have their water delivered by truck and stored in large tanks outside their homes. The water in those tanks could last the family as long as six months, which makes it susceptible to algae growth, which can clog many traditional filters. In these cases, the water needs to be treated, but many families do not know how frequently they need to treat or prefer not to treat the water because it adds an unpleasant chlorine smell and taste. The researchers are trying to develop solutions for people in this situation as well.

During the study’s second phase, point-of-use water filters will be developed and installed in homes at no cost. From there, participants will evaluate the filtration system over the next year and rate it for user friendliness, affordability of maintenance and user satisfaction with end water quality.

CHSS Participates in the Tough Enough to Wear Pink 5K Fun Run





Researcher studies state of eldercare in the U.S.

Donna Wagner, an associate dean at NMSU’s College of Health and Social Services, led a research team that studied best practices in workplace eldercare. (NMSU photo)


About 15 percent of the U.S. workforce is involved in providing care and support to an older relative or friend, a percentage that is only expected to increase over the coming years. A researcher at New Mexico State University says not all employers provide support for these employees, even though it’s something that could save everyone money in the long run.

Donna Wagner, an associate dean at NMSU’s College of Health and Social Services, is one of the country’s leading experts in this field. She says fewer than 25 percent of companies with a large number of employees have a program in place at all.

“There is a good business case that could be made for providing eldercare to employees,” Wagner said. “Eighty percent of employed caregivers make some workplace accommodations as a result of their care responsibilities – coming in late to work, leaving early or taking time off. Ten percent of employees who are providing eldercare end up leaving the workplace, most of the time permanently.”

She said that in New Mexico, on any given day, there are 287,000 residents who are caregiving. During a 12-month period, there are 419,000 providing care. According to the AARP, the value of their “free” services to the long-term care system in New Mexico is $3.1 million.

Wagner led a research team that studied best practices in workplace eldercare. The research was conducted by the National Alliance for Caregiving for ReACT, a group of corporations and organizations dedicated to addressing the challenges faced by employee caregivers and reducing the impact on the companies that employ them. The study looked at what companies are doing now in regard to eldercare and compare it to what companies had done in the past. Workplace eldercare programs have been around for more than 25 years in the US.

“We found that not much had changed since the 1990s,” Wagner said. “But there are a few new and interesting things that companies are doing, which can have a positive bottom-line benefit for employers as well as help the workers manage their caregiving and work.”

A few of the new benefits or policies Wagner found included employers providing discounted rates for emergency back-up home health care and providing access to health care coaches and mentors to help with medical paperwork. In addition, many employers are offering Internet-based information and training on topics such as caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease that an employee can take advantage of during the lunch hour or after work.

“The ‘average’ employee with eldercare responsibilities is a woman who is in her mid-50s,” Wagner said. “However, there are almost as many men in the workplace as women who are providing ongoing support to an elder. There are also a number of younger workers who are actively involved in care giving for an elder. Approximately 20 percent of the care giving employees nationwide are younger than 45.”

She said the situation will get more complicated in the future because baby boomers will have fewer informal family care resources than did their parents. She believes there will be an increase in younger workers with care responsibilities as a function of late childbirth trends.

Included in the recommendations of her report is advice for employers to make their money go further by not just implementing eldercare benefits for employees, but implementing the ones that make the most sense, and complement other, free services already available in their areas.

“I think this is exactly the right time for these kinds of benefits,” she said. “Employers can’t afford to lose and replace valuable workers. This is a time to hold on to good employees.”

by Justin Bannister, NMSU Communications


This page last updated on November 6, 2012