With 2015 now in the record books, a look back shows just how busy and…
When Nan Hill decided to give up her career of 30 years as a stained glass artist and instructor to pursue a degree in family social services, it was a bit of a leap of faith.
She knew that she enjoyed helping people solve their problems, and that she loved the counseling classes she took when she enrolled at NIU’s College of Health and Human Sciences. However, it wasn’t until she started serving an internship at Carpenter’s Place in Rockford that her faith was rewarded.
“If you think you might be uncomfortable around homeless people, you’ll learn that in a hurry here,” Hills says of her time at Carpenter’s Place, which provides meals, clean clothes, help with job hunting and a variety of other services to the indigent. “This type of experience is invaluable.”
Far from being uncomfortable, Hill found that she had a passion for the work.
“I am so humbled by the guests that we serve,” she says. "They are incredibly appreciative for all that Carpenter’s Place does. They are just people who are down on their luck who don’t know how to get back on their feet. I love that Carpenter’s Place gives them a hand up instead of a hand-out.”
Hill has quickly become a fixture at the agency this summer.
Some days she serves as sort of an ambassador-at-large, telling members of the public about the agency as they drop off donations. Other days she teaches arts and crafts, runs bingo games and helps serve meals. Most importantly, she spends a great deal of time speaking to guests, allowing them to talk out problems and offering encouragement. The experience convinced her that she is headed in the right direction for her second career.
“Last week I had a guest I was working with who made a special trip just to stop by and tell me that she found a job. It’s an awesome feeling knowing that you made a difference in a small way,” Hill says.
That type of experience is precisely why the Family Social Services program at NIU values placements like Hill’s at Carpenter’s Place. “It helps students understand the complex nature of human need experienced by individuals and families,” says Tom Pavkov, chair of NIU’s School of Family, Consumer and Nutrition Sciences in the College of Health and Human Sciences. “It also introduces them to the complexity of social policy, and human service programs designed to meet those needs.”
“Workplace-based learning is an integral part of students’ programs,” adds Derryl Block, dean of the college. “Students gain essential knowledge, skills and dispositions essential for career success.”
For many of the college’s programs, it is simply an expectation of the profession that students will receive those experiences as part of their education.
“Practicums, clinicals, internships – different programs call them different things. What they all have in common is that they are valuable learning experiences that help prepare students for their careers. No matter what a student is studying, it can be an invaluable part of their education,” says Beverly Henry, associate dean for academic affairs for the college.
“For instance, in nursing, dietetics and rehabilitation services, they are expected to practice the things they will do in their careers, under the guidance of not only their supervisors, but also our professors and instructors. The direct links to faculty and what they can add is a big part of it,” she adds.
“In fields such as hospitality and fashion merchandising, where there is no accreditation requirement, the college goes out of its way to partner with businesses to help students find those experiences.”
At any given time, Henry says, about 20 percent of the college’s 3,800 students, who spread across 15 fields of study, are engaged in some sort of professional learning experience. The college has affiliations with more than 400 work sites where students can hone their skills and test their commitment to their profession.