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Agencies help UNG celebrate HSDA accreditation

Colleen Dudley, right, a student in UNG's Health Services Delivery and Administration (HSDA) program, talks about composting. Dudley has been completing required field work by working with Keep Hall Beautiful and County Extension Coordinator Michael Wheeler, center.

From assisting victims of crime to protecting the environment, students in the Human Service Delivery and Administration (HSDA) program at the University of North Georgia (UNG) have performed field work at area agencies amounting to more than $1 million in time since 2011.

Dr. Pamela Elfenbein
Dr. Pamela Elfenbein

Service agency representatives from around the region shared success stories about working with UNG students as they gathered Wednesday to celebrate national accreditation for the university’s HSDA program. In May, UNG's program earned five-year accreditation by the Council for Standards in Human Service Education (CSHSE), making it one of only 43 programs in the nation and the only accredited baccalaureate program in the Southeast.

Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, head of the Department of Sociology and Human Services that houses the HSDA program, attributed the program's success to strong partnerships.

"None of this could have been possible without everybody in the room," she told a group of more than 100 at an event held Wednesday on the Gainesville Campus. "It truly takes a village to create a program such as the HSDA program; it takes the university, the faculty, the students, the community, all with a commitment to quality of life in our community and the education of our students."

Amanda Fernandez with the Hall County Solicitor's Office explained that the office couldn't handle its large caseload without the help of students like Catalina Alvarez.

HSDA student mentor
Catalina Alvarez, left, talks about her experiences at the
Hall County Solicitor's Office as Amanda Fernandez looks on.

"I can't tell you how much we appreciate our interns, how much work they actually do and how much we appreciate the services they provide to us," Fernandez said. "Ms. Alvarez completed about 800 hours of service with us and we were very sad when she left, but we're very proud of her and what she's accomplishing now."

Alvarez said her field work experience guided her to enroll in the University of Georgia's School of Law.

"Going to the solicitor's office gave me a chance to find myself," she said. "The fact that I served the community makes me more aware of the human aspect, because the law can be impersonal and we forget the people who we want to serve."

The HSDA degree program at UNG provides an interdisciplinary, educational foundation for careers related to public health, welfare and social services. The program has emphases in administration, program evaluation and gerontology. Some 355 students have completed their required field placement hours at more than 70 regional agencies, businesses, and other entities, several of which currently employ at least one HSDA graduate.

Jessica Butler, director of Gateway Domestic Violence Center in Gainesville, said she is excited about continuing the relationship with the program, praising recent UNG graduate Kaitlin Norris as an example of the quality of HSDA students.

"We've had a handful of students who have come through this academic program the last few years and have had great experiences with the students who have come our way," she said. "We're very grateful for what they've done."

Since the program's inception in 2011, students have completed more than 50,000 hours of service, a benefit to area agencies that also helps UNG graduates get into the workforce faster than their peers in non-accredited programs.

Students from non-accredited programs must complete two years and 3,000 hours of post-degree experience in the field to be eligible to pursue certification, requirements that are waived for graduates from accredited programs like UNG's. HSDA students at UNG also are eligible to sit for the credentialing exam in their last semester before graduation, meaning they could graduate as a nationally certified practitioner.

The accelerated path to certification – and the workforce – afforded by UNG's accredited HSDA program meshes well with the goal of the university's Complete College Georgia plan. Complete College Georgia is a statewide initiative that aims to increase the percentage of the population with some level of college completion to meet projected workforce needs.

Mark Green, an HSDA student, said his work planning university and community events for UNG's Multicultural Services Office has helped him develop professionally.

"I eventually want to have my own clinic, so I have to know how to hold events and how to work with the community," he said. "Mr. Robert Robinson also has taught me and all of us how to do things to completion, not just come up with an idea and then let it linger, which was one of my biggest weaknesses."

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