PEMBROKE — UNC Pembroke has been awarded a $3.1 million federal grant which will provide financial assistance over five years for 185 students seeking a master’s degree in social work.
University leaders believe the Expanding the Mental Health Professional Workforce in Rural NC (EMPOWER MSWs) program has the potential to significantly increase the number of licensed clinical social work practitioners in the area and will have a transformative effect on mental health care in the region.
The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ division of Health Resources and Service Administration will provide full scholarships for 37 students each year.
“We are really excited to be able to offer so many opportunities for individuals to be able to access the MSW program at UNC Pembroke,” said MSW Program Director Dr. Summer Woodside. “As program director, cost is the number one question I get from potential grad students. With graduate school there are not a lot of scholarship opportunities.
“I’m excited that our students who are awarded this scholarship will not have to take out student loans or worry about paying them back,” said Woodside, who also serves as interim associate dean of the College of Health Sciences.
The EMPOWER MSWs program will help strengthen and expand the health care workforce throughout the university’s regional service area, according to Dr. Cindy Locklear, assistant professor and EMPOWER MSWs program director.
“UNC Pembroke is located in a region designated as a health professional shortage area, especially in the field of mental health. This grant program will offer opportunities for students to remain in the area upon graduation and help increase the mental health workforce in our area.”
To be eligible, students must be enrolled or be accepted into the MSW program for the 2020-2021 academic year and must meet specific criteria, including being from a disadvantaged background. The deadline to apply for the MSW program is July 15.
“The idea is for program participants with roots in rural communities to stay and work in those communities,” Locklear said. “It’s important to find people who have overcome a lot themselves and have a desire to give back to these medically underserved communities.”
UNCP offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work. Launched in 2007, the MSW program is among the largest UNCP graduate programs with approximately 90 full and part-time students and nearly 55 graduates per year. It is fully accredited by the National Council on Social Work Education.
“We were excited to have been awarded this grant,” Locklear said. “It was a national competition and to be a smaller university, we are thrilled because larger universities typically get these kinds of awards. We were competing against all health-related programs across the United States. This is huge!”
Locklear and Woodside, who served as principal investigators for EMPOWER MSWs, take pride in researching and seeking grant opportunities to alleviate financial stress for students.
“Dr. Locklear and I both wanted to seek grant opportunities to help students because we know a lot of our students have financial challenges and the community has a need. For me, my motivation is to provide the much-needed support for future licensed clinical social workers who will serve our area by addressing gaps in mental health services,” Woodside said.