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Training students to be on the front lines of community service

At first glance you may think you stumbled into a counseling session. Then you realize you’re in a human services classroom at Tidewater Community College.

“It’s really hard dealing with family when we are not accepted,” says Justin Fleming, role playing being married to Pamela Nobles.

“It’s an emotional rollercoaster,” adds Nobles. Christina Byrd, acting as the counselor, kept the conversation on track and gave the “couple” some ideas on how to handle their disapproving families.

“We practice what we will be seeing on the job,” says Ivory Warren, program head for Human Services. “Students may be in a faux-counseling session or working with a client in crisis.”

TCC’s Associate of Applied Science in Human Services prepares students to provide much-needed support for teens in crisis, families, the elderly and countless others. Coursework includes basic counseling skills, various functions of crisis intervention, the management principles of human and social service and the skills needed to address the needs of patients and clients from a counseling perspective. Additional focus is placed on the process of case management.

“Students are learning skill sets, as part of their tool box to make a difference in people’s lives,” Warren adds. “Most of my students have experienced problems and overcome, and now they can be change agents for others in similar circumstances.

“We train students to do it all – everything from basic intake, to assessment, to facilitating a group,” Warren says. “Our goal is to take clients from dependence to self-sufficiency.”

Human Services students Samuel Melchione, Shinisa Thomas, Christina Byrd, Justin Fleming, and Pamela Nobles role play a counseling session focusing on interracial marriage.
Human Services students Samuel Melchione,
Shinisa Thomas, Christina Byrd, Justin Fleming,
and Pamela Nobles role play a counseling session
focusing on interracial marriage.

The Human Services program, a signature program on the Norfolk Campus, has grown to over 300 students in the last two years. Warren attributes the growth to her mother-hen approach to program management.

“I’m compassionate and want to bring out the best in my students. But I require a lot of them, too. I don’t accept excuses and I do expect the work to get done.”

Taught by practicing human services professionals, the comprehensive curriculum includes two hands-on internship experiences. Students complete  two 40-hour internships during their last two semesters at the college. “By the second internship, students are often doing intake and managing cases,” Warren says. “The learning students do on the job is priceless.”

“I love this program completely,” says Sierra Van Orden, 19, and a first-year student. “There’s nothing I’d rather be doing right now – or ever.”

Linda Little, also a first-year student, adds, “I decided to come back to school so I could do something different. I’ve learned a lot because of my own disability and I want to give something back.” Little, 61, is wheelchair bound and attending classes on a senior waiver.

Human Services classes are offered face-to-face at the Norfolk and Portsmouth Campuses and online. New online courses to be added this year include Case Management and Substance Abuse (HMS 258) and Helping Across Cultures (HMS 226).

Students who complete the Associate of Applied Science in Human Services often find work in the agencies where they have performed their internship hours. “So many agencies are requesting our interns because of their eagerness to learn, work ethic and how prepared they are for the work,” Warren says. “New agencies call every month, wanting to partner with our program in order to utilize our students as interns.”

“At the end of the day,” Warren says, “I want my students to gain the nuggets of knowledge that will take them far in life and help them achieve their dreams. I want them to accept challenges without fear and to learn to believe in themselves. And help them realize that ‘from here, they can go anywhere.’”