Northeastern State University in Tahlequah has received a grant to help put more child welfare workers in Oklahoma. The National Child Welfare Workforce Institute is giving NSU $735,000 to use during the next five years.
The school says the timing couldn't be better.
The Department of Human Services has already hired 600 new case workers and supervisors as part of a plan to re-structure its operations, and they say more workers will most likely be needed in the future.
"I mean, it's not going to be easy, but I like a challenge," said Susan Alexander.
Susan Alexander is a year away from graduating NSU with a specialty in child welfare.
"I just would like to go out into the community and help and serve people and their families," she said.
Alexander is part of a program at NSU in Tahlequah that helps prepare students for a career in social work. The school just received a grant from the National Child Welfare Workforce Institute for $735,000 for the next five years.
Eight students will be selected every year to get close to $3,000 a semester as they work towards a degree in social work.
"With a Bachelor of Social Work and a certificate of specialty, students are actually feet on the ground when they graduate, hopefully prepared for not only entry but retention in this very stressful and challenging field to go into," said Virginia Drywater-Whitekiller, professor of Social Work.
The degree will help students get jobs either at DHS or with a Native tribe. School officials say the scholarship is meant to encourage students to think about a field they may not otherwise consider.
"I think it allows them to have focus because many times when people are in undergraduate programs they're still not sure what they're going to do when they grow up," Drywater-Whitekiller said.
Alexander says the program has allowed her to pursue a dream of helping others and as someone in her late 30s she was worried about starting over but hopes others follow her lead.
"It doesn't matter what age if you have a dream go after it, don't let anything stop you," said social work student Susan Alexander.
NSU is currently accepting applications for the scholarship program.