UConn Nursing, Social Work Awarded $6M to Address Workforce Shortages in Critical Fields

The funds will help grow the ranks of social workers and nurses in Connecticut

The UConn large letter sign at dusk on June 12, 2021.

(Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

The UConn School of Nursing and the UConn School of Social Work (SSW) have been awarded more than $6 million through the new CT Health Horizons program to address statewide shortages in social work and nursing.

The funding is from CT Health Horizons, a higher education program designed to address statewide shortages in social work and nursing. Beginning this spring, and over three years, the SSW, which was awarded more than $2 million, will use the funds to increase the number of social workers in Connecticut trained to serve the mental health needs of children and adolescents while the School of Nursing, which was awarded $4 million, will use the funds to increase the number of registered nurses to meet the School’s mission of advancing the health of individuals and communities.

“The School of Social Work is committed to addressing the mental health crisis affecting children and adolescents across our state,” says SSW Dean and Zachs Chair Nina Rovinelli Heller. “The CT Health Horizons award helps us both to support and prepare more students interested in youth mental health and to serve the state’s workforce needs.”

School of Nursing Dean Deborah Chyun adds that the funding comes at a crucial time for the state’s health care workforce.

“The School of Nursing is deeply appreciative that the state has recognized the critical shortage of nurses in Connecticut and has made funds available through the CT Health Horizons project,” Chyun says.

In the School of Social Work, funds will be used to provide $1 million in student stipends, hire faculty, and support two targeted SSW strategies: to increase the number of Spanish-speaking, Master of Social Work (MSW)-level social workers in the state, and to boost the number of social workers in public schools.

To serve the growing Latina/o/x community in the state, the SSW will launch Connecticut ¡Adelante!, a program for Spanish-speaking, bilingual social work students. In addition to preparing these students to provide mental health services, the program will also build the linguistic and cultural competencies of students to serve a growing population of Latina/o/x children and families in Connecticut. Students will receive a stipend each semester they remain in the program.

Exterior views of the School of Social Work (SSW) with students walking out of the building.
Exterior views of the School of Social Work (SSW) with students walking out of the building. Sept. 15, 2022. (Sean Flynn/UConn Photo)

Connecticut ¡Adelante! will offer specialized courses in Spanish as well as field internships at local organizations that focus on Spanish-speaking families. The combination of education and hands-on training will prepare students to support mental health needs and improve the lives of Latinos in the state.

The program will also leverage the SSW’s long-term partnerships with Connecticut state departments and social service agencies – such as the Department of Children and Families, Wheeler Clinic, and Connecticut Children’s – to develop employment opportunities for students.

“The goals of Connecticut ¡Adelante! are to meet the mental health needs of children and families and to continue to create workforce pipelines for our graduating bilingual social work students to remain in Connecticut,” says Milagros Marrero-Johnson, director of strategic programming at SSW.

The second strategy supported by the CT Health Horizons grant focuses on school social work. Building on existing partnerships with two school districts, the award will allow the SSW to educate and train more social workers to serve in public schools.

The goals are to have social work students support school social workers in addressing the mental health needs of students, increase the number of social work students prepared to enter the field of school social work, and support those school social workers working with our social work students.

The project will help strengthen the school social worker pipeline by putting more social work students, particularly advanced-year MSW students, in Bloomfield Public Schools and Hartford Public Schools. In these school settings, the students will learn about existing mental health programs and work closely with teachers to implement mental health interventions such as conflict resolution. They will also support school social workers with behavioral and educational assessments.

In this way the students will gain greater exposure to school-based teams and strategies while also getting more deeply immersed in the complexities of school social work and mental health interventions. They will also participate in a webinar and complete a course on school social work they will need for certification.

“These funds could not come at a more critical moment,” says Amy Gorin, UConn’s Vice Provost for Health Sciences and Interdisciplinary Initiatives. “Our School of Social Work will put the CT Health Horizons award to immediate use to support and train students committed to helping the lives of Connecticut residents.”

The community will benefit by having a greater number of social work students placed in their schools for their field education experiences at a time when many youth are struggling with social-emotional challenges. The project will increase eight-fold the number of MSW students prepared to serve as school social workers, and also boost the number of BSW students exposed to this increasingly in-demand form of social work practice.

Storrs Hall is seen from the opposite side of Swan Lake.
UConn School of Nursing. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

“This program strengthens the relationship between the UConn School of Social Work and public school systems by working with public schools to address current student mental health and well-being needs,” says Joanne Corbin, SSW associate dean for academic affairs. “Importantly the program ensures that the School of Social Work is preparing students in the areas of most need in the state.”

In the School of Nursing, $1.2M will provide much-needed scholarship support for the school’s accelerated students, who otherwise as second-degree students, have exhausted other sources of support and have limited access to funding. These 122 student recipients will complete their nursing degrees in one-year, along with their classmates, will contribute 150 or more nurses to the workforce each year.  They serve as an important source of nurses who are so urgently needed in the state.  This support will allow them to focus on their rigorous curriculum and ease their financial burden, including their need for outside work.

Nursing faculty, who are in short supply across the country, will also be recruited through this initiative. With $2.8M in funding, UConn will be able to hire an additional seven new faculty, allowing the School to increase its student enrollment. The UConn School of Nursing is highly competitive and has to turn away more than 1,500 applicants each year for lack of faculty and access to clinical sites.

“The nursing shortage demands immediate attention and this CT Health Horizons award will provide a much needed infusion of financial support for students and funds to hire new faculty,” says Gorin. “Our highly regarded School of Nursing will utilize these funds to educate a diverse nursing student body committed to improving the health care of Connecticut residents.”

Dean Chyun concludes that “the University of Connecticut School of Nursing is extremely grateful for the assistance of CT Health Horizons as we strive to meet the healthcare needs of our citizens.”