Northeastern Illinois University experienced something new during Commencement on May 7: The first cohort of students from the Master of Social Work (M.S.W.) Program crossed the stage.
Approved in 2015 and launched in 2016, the program offers a standard 60-credit-hour track and an advanced one-year program. Thirty-three students from those two tracks represent the first individuals to earn their M.S.W. degrees from Northeastern.
“This cohort of students should be commended on their pioneer spirit,” M.S.W. Program Director Troy Harden said. “We’re proud of our first graduates. They represented our program well through the College of Graduate Studies and Research and will represent us well in the community for years to come.”
Antoinette Puleo already has lined up a job as a financial case manager with Niles Family Services.
“I am extremely proud to say that I am a part of the first M.S.W. cohort to graduate from NEIU on its 150th anniversary,” she said. “I am beyond excited and ready to hit the ground running in the field.”
Watching the first cohort of students participate in Commencement was a rewarding moment for Social Work Chair Jade Stanley, who worked for years to bring a master’s option to a department that already serves more than 400 undergraduates.
“We had to convince the state, the University and the Board of Trustees that we were providing additional opportunities for students that weren’t met by other M.S.W. programs in the immediate area and surrounding communities,” Stanley said. “We did that, and now these graduates are prepared to serve as leaders in their communities, take on roles of supervisors and serve in specialized areas of social work such as child welfare, schools, hospitals, youth centers and mental health clinics.”
Griselda De Luna, who participated in the advanced track after earning her bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2017, praised the faculty.
“They make sure everybody is on the same page,” said De Luna, a native of Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood. “The faculty members are accessible and they love what they do. They are not just instructors but also practicing social workers. What they bring into the classroom is amazing. I want to be like them in the future.”
De Luna performed her master’s fieldwork at Saint Anthony Hospital, where she worked in mental health with people from vulnerable populations. She would prefer to continue practicing in this area of social work but is currently applying to jobs across a wide spectrum of the profession.
“People need social workers,” she said. “There are so many services out there, but people don’t know about them. That’s particularly true in impoverished neighborhoods.”
This first crop of graduates—and M.S.W. graduates to come—are a boon for Chicago and the surrounding communities, Harden said.
“Northeastern has given these communities a diverse, competent, energetic new work force to draw from,” he said. “Our students have life experiences, know their communities well, and they will return to those communities to do their work.”
The application period to join the M.S.W. program in the summer or fall of 2019 will open in November.
All of the effort to complete the one-year track was worth it for Ariel Otero.
"When I was accepted to be part of the first advanced standing M.S.W. cohort, I had this feeling of excitement and shock. It was so surreal that it was possible to do this in just a year!" she said. "My enthusiasm was high because I love experiencing new things. ... When I walked across the stage in May 2018, I felt a sense of pride to be part of the cohort."