In 2021, Anna Maria College was awarded a multi-year grant of up to $1.92 million from the Behavioral Health Workforce Education and Training (BHWET) Program of the federal government’s Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).
The funds will be used to support the education and clinical practices of mental health counseling and social work students by providing eligible Anna Maria graduate students with financial stipends. This Fall, graduate level students in the Internships Need: Trainings, Experientials, Resources, Networks (INTERN) received $10,000 stipends towards their degrees while participating in real-world, work experience and licensure opportunities.
The benefits of the stipend program are multifaceted as it decreases the financial burden of an advanced education while simultaneously opening accessibility to such programs, particularly among students who have work and/or family responsibilities.
Amy George, Marc LeBlanc, and Mariah Vega are Anna Maria graduate students who participated in Anna Maria’s first semester offering the INTERN project and subsequent stipends. The three are in their practicum settings for their Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology degrees.
Amy George is currently in the second year in her graduate program as she continues her practicum at Spectrum Health System and New England Recovery Center’s in their detoxification and residential programs. George’s journey to Anna Maria’s counseling psychology graduate program was very unexpected. During the height of COVID-19, George left her full-time job since her three children were no longer in school due to the lockdowns. It was during this time that George decided to pursue her master’s degree.
As a second career professional, George is emblematic of many Anna Maria students who are already well-established in their career fields and lives, but return to school to obtain their master’s degrees.
“I’m a much better student this time around. I’m much more attentive to writing papers. I’m much more attentive to studying. I’m not as technologically savvy as maybe a lot of my, you know, friends that I’ve made throughout this experience, but I will say that everyone’s been so helpful to me like I actually did my first PowerPoint presentation that I ever did in my life and, you know what, everyone was so supportive,” George said about her experience with the faculty and students in her program.
Marc LeBlanc is in the first year of his program. Currently, his practicum is taking place at the outpatient facility at AdCare Hospital, but next year he will be interning at the mental health department in the Worcester County Jail.
As a student athlete on Anna Maria’s baseball team, LeBlanc is used to balancing a hectic schedule and giving his all to every task. However, LeBlanc would not have been able to participate in the graduate program if it were not for the BHWET stipend program.
“I am fresh out of college, I started grad school right out of college, so I have not had a year where I have been able to make any salary or anything like that, I am more just paycheck to paycheck so being able to secure the fact that I will be able to have ten grand in my pocket next year is really helpful in being confident in order to pay rent,” LeBlanc said.
The stipends lessen the financial barriers of entry that certain students may face, especially when they must fulfill the Counseling Program’s 600-hour internship requirement, which is historically unpaid, on top of any full-time jobs they have. The financing allows graduate students to focus on their studies while making their expenses more manageable.
Mariah Vega is a young working mother who ignored the naysayers who said that she would never get her masters once she became a mother. Currently, Vega is completing her practicum at Anna Maria College’s Counseling Center while her internship will be at Pathways for Change working with survivors of sexual assault and trauma. She is on track to complete her graduate degree in 2023.
“What this stipend would do for me, is allow me to pay for daycare while I’m in my internship and also working, so it would allow me a little bit for freedom knowing that I have money to pay for daycare while also surviving,” Vega said about the impact the stipend has on her and her family’s future. According to Vega, the peace of mind and security that the stipends provide allow graduate students in the mental health and social work fields to truly focus on their studies and allocate time to doing the best that they can in the classroom.
The federal grant allows Anna Maria College to provide 29 students each year with $10,000 cost of living stipends. Not only does this stipend help individuals such as Amy George, Marc LeBlanc, and Mariah Vega achieve their dreams of advanced education and improve the futures of their families, it adds more trained and licensed mental health and social work professionals to the community. These professionals are key to ending the mental health crisis and professional shortage in the industry in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information about the BHWET Program please visit: https://annamaria.edu/bhwet/