Interview with Jill Manit, Ph.D., MSW - Clinical Assistant Professor and Online Education Coordinator for the School of Social Work at Sacred Heart University
About Jill Manit, Ph.D., MSW: Jill Manit is a Clinical Assistant Professor and was formerly the Online Education Coordinator for Sacred Heart University’s School of Social Work. As Coordinator, she oversaw the administration of Sacred Heart University’s Online Master of Social Work, including student recruitment and admissions, student advising, curriculum design, and field education for the online program. As a Clinical Assistant Professor, Dr. Manit teaches courses in human diversity and social justice, social welfare policy and services, community coalition building, and social work program leadership. She received her BSW, MSW, and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Nevada Reno.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] May we have an overview of your academic and professional background in social work, as well as your current responsibilities as the Online Education Coordinator for Sacred Heart University’s School of Social Work?
[Dr. Manit] I have been a social worker for 20 years. I received my BSW in 2000 and my MSW (as an Advanced Standing student) in 2001. While I initially started out working in substance abuse treatment for both adolescents and adults, I ended up working as a community organizer for the first few years of my career. In that role, I worked to build substance abuse prevention coalitions across my state. Then, I had an incredible opportunity to direct a small non-profit family service agency. That was one of the hardest jobs I ever had! I did everything from operating a food pantry and installing car seats to writing grants and running payroll. I worked with a small team who cared deeply for our community and we scraped pennies to keep the doors open.
I then worked as a technical assistance provider under a federal grant. I was interested in public policy because when I practiced as a social worker, I had first-hand experience with the fact that public policy could either support or limit opportunities for people who are marginalized in society. This is what ultimately led to my most recent position teaching in the online MSW program at SHU.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] May we have an overview of Sacred Heart University’s Online Master of Social Work? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students for a wide variety of advanced roles in social work at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels?
[Dr. Manit] The online MSW program at Sacred Heart University uniquely prepares students for social work practice that specifically addresses the needs of individuals and families, while simultaneously challenging and changing social structures that oppress whole populations. We are fierce advocates for social justice and have adopted a deep commitment to ensuring our graduates enter practice with a high-level skill set fueled by a passion to ensure equity for all people. Our perspective is that inequity is the result of current and historical policies and practices that are rooted in racism and white supremacy. Therefore, our students are trained to understand this perspective and then develop the skill set and confidence necessary to challenge and change those unjust systems.
As students enter the program, they can expect to first become grounded in that shared commitment to social justice. From there, they start to build their knowledge and skills around – what we call – integrated practice. Let me explain what I mean by integrated practice. Students will choose from one of our two specializations: clinical practice or community practice. The clinical practice specialization prepares students to provide direct mental health diagnostic and therapeutic treatment services for individuals and families. Students who pursue the community practice specialization are prepared to pursue careers in administration and management in both public organizations and non-profit settings. They learn to mobilize and organize communities to address specific needs, design programs, write grants, and engage in policy and political action.
An exciting aspect of our program is that, even though a student selects one specialization, our perspective is that a true professional social worker can navigate across multiple systems and populations. So, as a graduate of our program, even if you are trained in clinical practice, you will still have a community or macro perspective to inform your direct practice. Likewise, a community-based practitioner must be informed in evidence-based direct practices in order to develop, manage, and advocate for programs accordingly. With this integrated practice perspective, students learn about and are expected to weave together an informed assessment of both the individual and their community. This allows the social worker to then design interventions that meet the direct need of their client while also addressing community-level problems that impact their clients’ well-being.
When students enter our program, they will choose one of the specializations. However, our curriculum is structured in a way that allows some flexibility for students to switch specializations. In fact, it is not uncommon for a student to come into the program with the intent to pursue clinical work and then they develop a passion for addressing community problems at their root cause. To switch a specialization, the student works with their Advisor to examine their professional goals and to discuss changes in their course plans to accommodate that switch. One thing that we are proud of in our program is the involvement of our Advisors. A student is always welcome to discuss their interests with their Advisor to determine what might be the best option(s) for them.
Flexibility in course selection:
Students also have an opportunity to shape their curriculum experience a bit. During the course of the program they will be able to take two elective courses. We are proud to offer a wide range of electives and actively encourage our students to pursue electives in content areas outside of their comfort zone. Additionally, some students develop unique interests or areas of research that they would like to explore further. As such, they have an opportunity to do an “independent study” with a faculty member where they may pursue a specific or focused topic area or research project. Also, most of our classes require some kind of project or paper that students work on over the course of a semester. These projects are an incredible opportunity for a student to apply their classroom knowledge to a topic area that they are particularly passionate about.
Curriculum tracks/Advanced standing:
We offer two curriculum tracks for students. The 60-credit track is for students who do not already have a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree. This track is the equivalent of a typical 2-year master’s program if the student were to go to school full-time. The second track is the 30-credit or “Advanced Standing” track. This is for students who already have a BSW degree. Essentially, the final year of a BSW degree is specifically designed to align with the first year of the MSW. This is why students with a BSW degree from an accredited institution can “jump” into that second year, or the last 30 credits of an MSW program. Students in the 60-credit track program will complete two different internships in addition to course work and students in the 30-credit track will complete one internship in addition to the course work. The internships are included in the overall credit load (30 or 60 credits).
In our online program, students take courses year-round (fall, spring, and summer) and they typically take 2 courses per term. On this schedule, it takes three years plus one semester for a student in the 60-credit track to finish. Advanced Standing students can finish the program in one year plus 2 semesters. Another strength of our program is that students meet with their advisor at least one time every semester to discuss their professional development and course planning. During these meetings, students can talk to their advisors about adjusting their schedule to either increase or decrease their course load as their personal circumstances may shift from time to time in the program.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] What online technologies does Sacred Heart University’s Online Master of Social Work use to facilitate interactions between students and faculty, as well as between classmates in and outside of courses?
[Dr. Manit] Our program is asynchronous, so students are not required to log in during specific days and times for live lectures and we do not require campus visits. That being said, students in our program find themselves following a predictable pattern of due dates for discussion board posts and assignments. This seems to be helpful for busy online students who often juggle multiple priorities. Also, even though we are asynchronous, our faculty may offer optional live sessions. These sessions are typically recorded and posted to the whole class for those who are not able to make a live meeting. Professors may hold optional live sessions to review big assignments, add more detail to a content area, or to demonstrate a particular social work skill or strategy.
While all of the students’ course work and assignment submissions are managed through a system called Blackboard, we also use video conference technology such as Webex or Zoom to meet “face-to-face” with our students. Also, faculty utilize recorded videos or other narrated presentations in their course announcements to help engage students in the weekly content.
We understand that online learning can often feel like a lot of reading and writing for students. In our course designs, we employ different technologies for students to engage in the material. For example, students may utilize a Wiki tool within Blackboard to collectively contribute to one document. Also, students may submit assignments as video presentations or recorded PowerPoints. That being said, we understand that not all of our incoming students have advanced technology skills, so we are prepared to offer a little extra support when necessary to help develop those skills. We find that most of our students end up advancing their technology skills while also developing their social work skills.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] Sacred Heart University also offers a campus-based MSW program. May we have more information on this program and how it is distinct from the online MSW program?
[Dr. Manit] While we may offer different paths to the MSW degree such as an on-ground option or an online option, we take great pride in operating as one School and one Program. This means that all students will interact with faculty across all of our program components and all students receive the same curriculum and course offerings. We have intentionally designed our courses to achieve the same outcomes, but the strategy for getting students to that outcome may look a little different for the different program options. For example, a professor may have an activity that requires some kind of simulation (pretending you are within a real practice scenario). In an on-ground course, that activity may take an entire class session, whereas, in the online program, the activity may be broken down into small parts over the course of the semester.
While we do expect students to stay in the program option to which they were admitted, we understand that there are times in which it is in the student’s best interest to make some changes. Students are permitted to take a limited number of courses in a different option (on-ground vs. online) and would work with their advisor to plan for this change and request approval. Our on-ground option includes courses that are held on the weekends with some online work during the week. Additionally, some students may find that they would like to move entirely from one option to another option – such as moving from the online program to the on-ground program. While this is possible, students would have to seek specific approval to do so and would only be allowed to make that switch one time. It’s important for all students to know that, upon admission to the program, they will be provided with a handbook that describes the policies and procedures guiding their MSW experience.
Ideal student for delivery method:
The social work program is proud to work with students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences. Our varied program options provide the opportunity for students to select a program that best fits their personal priorities and needs. Regardless, graduate school is not an easy feat. Students must be prepared to dedicate at least 10 hours per week per class and they should also think about how they will make space to complete about 14-20 hours of field work per week (during the terms they are enrolled in an internship). This is something that our admission and enrollment advisors can talk to prospective students about.
When trying to decide what program option might be best for them, students should ask themselves the following questions:
- What hours of the day do my work and personal life afford me to dedicate to my MSW program (i.e. all day/every day, only mornings, only nights, only weekends)?
- What is my learning style (i.e. access to a lot of reading material and discovering information on your own, being able to ask a lot of questions, interaction with others, etc.)?
- How organized am I? Can I make and keep my own schedule or do I prefer to have a structure and schedule set in place for me?
Answers to the questions above can help prospective students think about what option is best for them. First, literal availability for course work and proximity to the campus may help assess readiness for an on-ground course. Next, learning style is critical to deciding whether to take on-ground courses or online courses. Students in online programs need to be able to track all of their assignments and be diligent in sticking to a schedule to work their way through each week’s readings and activities. Online students play an active role in managing their own engagement with the material. They don’t have a Professor in their home at night making sure they are reading the material or calling on them in class for the answer to a question. Finally, all students in graduate programs need to be organized enough to track course requirements. However, students in online classes need to diligently attend to course announcements containing deadline information, syllabi, and other Blackboard reminders. Online courses often require several deadlines throughout the week such as when to post to a discussion board, when to reply to their peers in the discussion, and when to submit larger assignments.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] All students of Sacred Heart University’s 60-credit Master of Social Work program must complete both a foundational field practicum and an advanced field practicum, while Advanced Standing students must complete an advanced practicum. What do these practicums entail, and how does the field placement process work for each? What kinds of faculty/peer support do students receive during their completion of their field education requirement?
[Dr. Manit] It is important to start this answer off by saying that the Council on Social Work Education (the accrediting body for all schools of social work) has declared field education the “signature pedagogy” of social work education. This means that field education (i.e. internships) is a central component of our entire program and is of equal importance to the classroom. The premise here is that students can gain all kinds of knowledge and skill in the classroom, but the “real” practice setting brings an added context that is difficult to replicate in the classroom. In field, students may think they are perfectly executing something they learned in class, but it doesn’t appear to work. In “real-time” they have to reassess the situation, adjust, and try again.
I’ll never forget my own internship experiences when I realized a client was not taking to what I was trying to do… I felt they could see right through me and my panic. What I learned was that the clients are very resilient and they actually don’t mind when we struggle because that just means that we are human too. Working through those situations, sometimes failing and other times succeeding, is critical to a student’s development as a professional social worker. Thus, students must successfully complete and pass their field education requirements in order to graduate the program.
We are particularly proud to have a robust field education faculty team at SHU. This team works closely with our students shortly after they start the MSW program through the completion of all internship requirements. Each student is assigned a Field Liaison who will work directly with the student on locating and securing internship sites, managing potential problems that may arise during the internship, and supporting the student in their overall professional development. The Liaison works to ensure that students have completed all required paperwork and that identified field placement sites meet all University and accreditation requirements. Students who reside within Connecticut are matched to existing field placement sites while students who reside outside of Connecticut work closely and collaboratively with their Liaison to identify, recruit, and confirm field placements.
Having a full field faculty team allows us to be innovative and responsive in our field education approaches. For example, the COVID-19 Pandemic impacted all of our students who were in field placement sites. At the time, the Pandemic shut down agencies or required organizations to switch to emergency operations. Our field team jumped into action to ensure the students were both safe and that we were developing plans to support students in completing remaining field hours at a distance. It was an unprecedented moment in field education, as we had to balance the realities of the world with existing accreditation standards (such as the required number of field hours). We are proud of the work our field faculty did during that time.
Students in the 60-credit program track will complete two different internships over the course of their program. Each internship is comprised of two consecutive semesters at one site (Fall and Spring terms). Students should expect to complete 14-20 hours per week during the entire time they are enrolled in each internship. The first internship is what we call the “generalist” placement. The aim of this placement is to introduce students to social work settings where they practice basic social work skills. Some examples of generalist internships include family resource centers where students can practice basic assessment, engaging clients, providing some services, and learning how to document client interactions. Students may also intern within medical settings such as hospitals or skilled nursing facilities where they provide patient services as a part of a medical team and learn specific skills such as “discharge planning.”
The “specialized” placement is the second internship for students in the 60-credit track and is the only internship for Advanced Standing students. This placement aims to deepen and advance the student’s skill set in alignment with their identified specialization. So, students who have selected clinical practice as their specialization will intern in clinical settings such as psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, or within specialty centers such as domestic violence shelters that also offer clinical support. Students who select the community specialization intern in advocacy organizations that fight for particular causes such as ending racism, equal housing opportunities, or justice within schools. Community practice internships may also be in human service organizations where the student interns directly with a program manager or director and gains experience in designing, implementing, and evaluating programs. They may also gain experience in managing and supporting a non-profit organization.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] How do the faculty members of Sacred Heart University’s Master of Social Work program mentor and support students during their enrollment? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities? Outside of faculty advising, what other support structures are in place for students?
[Dr. Manit] Our program values the accessibility of our faculty. As discussed in the last question below, each faculty member carries their own unique research agenda and/or practices social work outside of the classroom. As we share our research and practice experiences with students through our teaching, the students are able to identify faculty that may be working on projects that a student is interested in. Students are invited to approach faculty directly to inquire about research assistantship opportunities (formal and informal). Additionally, students are encouraged to work directly with their advisors who can link students to other faculty or national colleagues that can offer mentorship to students. Other opportunities are available as “Independent Study” courses where students can work directly with a faculty member on deepening their understanding of or involvement in a particular topic area. When taken as a course, students can then utilize those independent study opportunities to fulfill their elective credit requirements.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] For students who are interested in Sacred Heart University’s Master of Social Work, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?
[Dr. Manit] The primary difference in the admission requirements for the 60 credit program vs. the Advanced Standing program is that Advanced Standing applicants must have a BSW degree from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program within the last 6 years. Advanced Standing applicants will have to provide a copy of their evaluation from the BSW internship and some other materials verifying their degree.
I have a few tips for prospective students to consider when preparing their applications:
- Keep in mind that most applicants are drawn to social work by their desire to help others. So, you are not necessarily unique in that regard. Therefore, in your personal statement, it is important that you go beyond simply describing the desire to help others. What makes you different than all other applicants who want to help people? Is there a social problem that you are particularly passionate about?
- Take a look at the National Association of Social Worker’s (NASW) description of our profession’s core values and describe how you align with those values. We firmly believe that we can increase your knowledge and teach you the skills while you are in our courses, but it is important that you enter the program (and the profession) with a basic understanding of the profession’s values and your alignment with them.
- Being a social worker isn’t just about helping people at the individual level – it is about fighting for policies and practices that equalize opportunities for all people regardless of their race, gender, or wealth. So, in your personal statement, communicate passion for social justice or at least your desire to become more engaged in social justice.
- To the greatest extent possible, use real examples in your essays – examples of when you demonstrated leadership, a time you helped someone else, your experience with voting or helping others to vote, etc. It doesn’t have to be examples from prior work history, just examples that demonstrate your alignment with social work values and your readiness to be a social worker. This is always a good indicator of your future potential. You can also encourage the people filling out recommendations to provide specific examples that demonstrate your potential.
- Finally, in your application materials, be sure to address your readiness to enter graduate school. What adjustments have you made to prepare yourself for your studies and to create the necessary time in your busy life to dedicate to your coursework?
[MasterofSocialWork.com] What makes Sacred Heart University’s Master of Social Work unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in clinical social work practice and direct community practice?
[Dr. Manit] All of our faculty are engaged in social work practice beyond the classroom and we bring those unique experiences back to the class. For example, some faculty are actively engaged in research projects to improve our understanding of addiction, the intersection of race and gender, aging and older adults, mindfulness practices, criminal justice systems and more; some faculty are actively involved in providing clinical services to individuals, couples, and families; and other faculty are engaged either professionally or as a volunteer in organizing communities to engage in political and social action. Again, this active and current practice experience is brought back to the classroom through demonstrative examples and case studies. This active research and practice aspect amongst our faculty allows us to stay current on practice techniques and standards while also maintaining community-based contacts to help connect students to potential jobs and future mentors, and to develop field experiences for students.
Our program has intentionally designed course work to move beyond simple knowledge acquisition. Wherever possible, students will apply their course work to “real” social problems and will actively engage in designing real solutions to those problems. For example, students will take two semesters of research. In the first semester, the students focus on gaining a lot of knowledge about research strategies. Then, in the second semester, they actually carry out real research projects. This allows students to experience the true value of conducting research as a social work practitioner. When appropriate and approved, many students will implement these projects in their field placement site too. Another strength within our courses is how we break down large assignments into smaller parts. This allows the students to work on big projects over the course of the whole semester – adjusting their plans based on peer and professor feedback along the way.
Our program is proud of our active involvement of advisors and flexible course planning to best support our students. Students who come to SHU will simultaneously feel challenged and supported in order to meet that challenge.
Thank you, Dr. Jill Manit, for your excellent and detailed insight into Sacred Heart University’s Master of Social Work program!