The University recently approved a Public Safety Certificate for social work undergraduates entering fields such as law enforcement, firefighting, emergency medical services and emergency management.
Students may officially enroll in the program in the fall of 2018, but they can start taking courses from the certificate’s curriculum next fall, according to Allan Cole, School of Social Work associate dean for academic affairs.
“It gives our students opportunities to work in a number of public safety settings that they haven’t worked in previously, and therefore would expose them to new professional opportunities after graduation,” Cole said. “Their presence in those settings allow social work values and skill sets to make contributions in their studies.”
The certificate’s courses would teach students how to apply social work skills and knowledge to better understand communities and individuals and keep them safe within their lines of work, criminal justice professor Mike Lauderdale said.
Lauderdale said the certificate will educate students becoming police officers on health and societal issues which may cause dangerous activity, such as mental illness or domestic violence.
“One of the things that I began to do was to train police officers not how to shoot a gun or how to drive a car fast, but how to read social situations,” Lauderdale said. “This is key to get the support of the neighborhood for public safety.”
The certificate requires six courses, totaling 18 credit hours, and students must also gain 120 hours of on-the-job training and experience, Cole said. Students must take two mandatory courses and pick three electives within the certificate’s curriculum.
Social work junior Warren Monnich, who is taking Lauderdale’s Leadership in the Community class, wants to be a police officer. Monnich said he appreciates the certificate’s requirement for him to work within a police department.
“Having that hands-on experience alongside with the knowledge that you gain in class makes that experience, and it makes that experience stick with you a lot longer,” Monnich said.
Monnich said police officers typically only need a high school GED, and so college students becoming officers are more exposed to diversity on campus and are more socially aware.
“We live in a time and a place where somebody can say something so minute or do something so small, but it could set somebody off that the officer may not have the knowledge of, [like] somebody’s religion,” Monnich said. “Just having smarter officers would prevent … cases to where you wouldn’t need as extreme of a response as you would say.”
Social work sophomore Catherine Mappus was an emergency medical technician for five years and ended her job about 15 years ago.
The 44-year-old said hospitals could benefit from EMTs with social work knowledge because it saves time in making observations on the scene of the emergency.
“If an EMT could make that assessment in the blink of an eye or within a minute and convey that to the social worker at the hospital, the social worker has more information with which they could move forward with,” Mappus said.