Life doesn’t stop when you start college. In some ways, the obstacles students faced before coming to campus intensify once classes and homework are added to the mix. Any number of issues, from work demands to stress, can affect students and result in them leaving school. There are a range of resources at UW Tacoma designed to help including the newly formed Office of Student Advocacy and Support (OSAS). “Faculty and staff saw a need for students around balancing life and education,” said Assistant Director of Student Advocacy and Support Roseann Martinez.
Martinez is a licensed social worker who has spent more than thirty years working in the field. “My background is in macro practice,” she said. In this instance macro refers to a level of social work that focuses on whole communities and systems of care. “I have a clinical license but I’ve spent most of my career in administration or program design," she said. Martinez also worked as a part-time lecturer in UW Tacoma’s social work program from 2007 to 2014.
The Strategic Initiative Fund (SIF) provided the money necessary to launch the OSAS. SIF was created as part of UW Tacoma’s strategic plan, Charting Our Course, and is designed to support projects that correspond to six “impact goals.” “This is a new unit within student engagement and it comes at no cost to the students,” said Martinez. “It’s a free service.” The funding also pays for two interns, both graduate students in the social work program. The first intern will be hired by summer.
Asking for help isn’t easy. “We need to see it as a sign of strength, not weakness,” said Martinez. “I’ve been tasked with trying to change the culture around asking for help.” Getting students to see things differently begins with process. Martinez is using a case management system. The idea is to work with students to create a set of strategies that work for them.
The process begins with a referral form. This form can be filled out by students, faculty or staff and is non-binding. “This is all voluntary,” said Martinez. From there Martinez meets with a student to identify the need and develop a course of action using a case-management support plan. The plan identifies four main areas of need including: basic, social, academic, and physical and mental health. “Whether they’re hungry or homeless or don’t have transportation or need childcare or their mother is dying of cancer, whatever it might be, we’ll develop a set of strategies to help them overcome,” said Martinez.
The work done by Martinez is private but not always confidential. There may be instances where she has to reach out to others including law enforcement. “I have to report things like child abuse or if a student is a danger to themselves or others,” she said.
Martinez not only hopes to change the stigma around asking for help, she also wants to help students learn how to use their voices. “I want students to learn how to be their own advocate, how to know what your needs are and how to find help for yourself,” she said.
This doesn’t mean students are on their own. Martinez will be with them and isn’t shy about stepping in if necessary. “I’m going to be very much a partner,” she said. “If that means sitting here and making a phone call to a doctor that won’t call a student back who has an infection, then I’m going to sit here and use the phone to call that doctor. I’m going to use my power and privilege as a staff member at the University of Washington Tacoma to help students where I can.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org