School of Social Work receives $1.28 million

The federal grant will help train 90 graduate students in providing mental health and substance abuse counseling.

Blair Emerson

The University of Minnesota’s School of Social Work received a $1.28 million grant last week to address the growing demand for professional training in mental health and substance abuse counseling.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded the grant, which the school will use to train 90 graduate students in providing behavioral health services to children, adolescents and young adults.

“This grant is really about expanding and strengthening the behavioral health workforce,” said Joseph Merighi, the School of Social Work’s director of graduate studies and the recipient of the grant. “We’ll have more highly trained practitioners who can provide much-needed services to this very vulnerable population.”

The students who will participate in the program are studying in two of the school’s programs — either clinical mental health or health, disability and aging. Merighi said training for the students will begin in October.

Merighi said he assembled a board of 13 experts in fields like mental health, substance abuse and inter-professional practice — all of whom work with the program’s target population — to oversee the training.

The board will include members from various Twin Cities communities, including African, Asian, Hmong and Latino communities, he said, adding that the experts will train students in a culturally sensitive way.

“We’re training people to work in the community and with the community,” Merighi said. “The last thing I would want is a board that is comprised [only] of academics who have little contact with the community.”

The federal grant will provide financial support to students over a three-year period, offering each participant a $10,000 stipend. The students will also have access to job placement services.

Alecia Sanders, a second-year student who is earning her master’s degree in social work, will participate in the program. She said the financial support will help free up time for graduate students who have to work while they take classes.

By participating in the program, students will be able to focus on their studies a little bit more, Sanders said.

She said the stipend will help her specifically because she is still paying off her undergraduate student loans.

The grant will also create new ties between the school and the University’s Academic Health Center, School of Social Work director James Reinardy said.

The new training will allow students to interact with health care professionals across multiple disciplines.

Sanders said she likes that the training will include different fields, adding that it will help students learn about professionals’ different roles and improve the quality of care they provide.

“The University of Minnesota has this huge Academic Health Center and provides all these health services, yet the School of Social Work … has never really provided its students with a concentration in working in a health care center,” Reinardy said.