Like many students in the Social and Community Development concentration of Rural Studies, Canesta Hicks knew she was interested in helping people, but she wasn’t sure exactly what to do.
Then, as Dean Darby Sewell tells the story, Hicks began a practicum with Literacy Volunteers of Tifton. “Through experience, she found what she’s passionate about,” Sewell said. “She saw she had a passion for working with adults who can’t read.”
The organization kept Hicks on and provided her with extensive experience in the literacy. Now she’s considering graduate work in adult education. The practical work makes her education more meaningful. And by the time she finishes her education, she’ll have as much experience in the field as many already working there.
“What’s wonderful about the program is the practical experience they’re able to get,” said Sewell. That has been one of the reasons the Social and Community Development concentration has grown to 27 students.
The concentration attracts students interested in course work in education, psychology, sociology and public administration who, in the past, would have sought degrees at other universities. However, they see at ABAC the opportunity for work their way into the field.
“One of the great things about the program is that students come from a variety of interests and disciplines, and the program can be tailored to what their end goal is,” said Sewell. For instance, because of community needs in economic development and grant writing, the program been able to develop strong components in both those areas.
Some grads move directly into the work force, as did Jessica Cone, membership manager of the Tift County Chamber of Commerce. Others aim toward graduate school. Rosa Miranda, who will graduate in May, is applying for three graduate programs and hopes to continue her training in sociology or American family therapy, Sewell said.
Many students are gravitating toward mental health and public health, in part because of the program’s partnership with the Albany Health Education Center , where some have done their practicums.
A panel of professionals recently spoke to graduates about how to enter the helping professions. They told students that they didn’t need a straight psychology or sociology degree to get a job as a social worker, counselor or public health employee. Experience counts, and that’s what the ABAC program offers.
Sewell said the best recruiters for the Social and Community Development concentration have been the students and graduates themselves. “The feedback has been very positive about what [graduates] left ABAC with,” Sewell said.
“Over the next two years, we’ll have more graduates out there. They’ll have stories to tell about their path,” Sewell said. As she has been doing for the past five years, she’ll tweak the program based on those stories, making sure it fits the needs of the graduates and their employers.
She’s confident the concentration will continue to grow based on the positive experiences of those who have blazed the trail for Rural Studies and Social and Community Development.