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Shared experiences valuable in Human Services

Human Services Students and Teachers
Sharesse Duncan, a senior in the Human Services concentration, shares a project with her cohort.

At the heart of the Sociology Department's concentration in Human Services is a hands-on teaching philosophy that educates students to work with others.

Students in the 59-credit program must complete three semester-long internships, totaling 360 hours. They also progress through the program as a cohort.

Mette Christiansen, director of the Concentration in Human Services, said the internships - also known as field education - socialize students by exposing them to different populations and agencies.

Students participate in internships in fields such as child welfare, domestic violence, and disability in a variety of capacities. Christiansen said the three internships are crucial, as the students feel more confident in their new environments as they move forward together.

"The experiences create situations that suddenly spur the students' learning," said faculty member Donna Chaffee.

Cortney Redlein, a senior in the program, said the internships further the students' understanding of working with others. "We are getting a sense of fulfillment in helping others now, rather than waiting until graduation when we enter the real world," she said.

Approximately 20 students graduate from the program each year and enter into the human services field or attend graduate school.

Christiansen and Chaffee bring decades of experience in the field to the program. Christiansen's background is in social pedagogy in Denmark (her native country), which is the basis for the New Paltz program. She has worked with a variety of populations in the human services field with a focus on disability. Chaffee worked in the child welfare system and is still a consultant for local agencies.

Together, they have developed relationships with the agencies that host interns in a seven-county radius that includes Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties. They also visit the sites for supervision.

The two full-time professors also guide students through the internships and are kept up-to-date with journal entries and class discussions. They also meet individually with the students at least three times during an internship.

Victoria Sam, also a senior in the program, said their professors' dedication pays off. "The passion, love and feel for the field of human services that they (Christiansen and Chaffee) have bounces off them and comes right to us," she said.

The curriculum takes place primarily during the junior and senior years. As a cohort, students take theory and field classes together and meet to discuss their experiences in field education classes.

Senior Hasan-can Arat said that everyone in his cohort brings their own experiences to the group and this allows them to build on their individual learning.

"I feel this is the way education is supposed to be," Ashley Surprenant, senior, said of the program, which was initiated in 1992 by the Mid-Hudson Coalition for Development of Direct Care Practice, a local organization that ensures professional standards are met in the human services field.