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Montclair State Enrolls First Master of Social Work Students

New MSW degree program focuses on children, youth and families

Posted in: Human Services, University

New MSW students Jason Lynch and Addrisa Ankrah

After being out of school for 20 years, Jason Lynch received his bachelor’s degree from Montclair State in May. “I owned two different companies in different industries,” he recalls. “I owned a construction company in my 20s and then, a group of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu schools in my 30s.”

Now, he is among the first 27 students enrolled in Montclair State’s newly launched Master of Social Work degree program. “One of the reasons that I’m attracted to an MSW is the versatility it offers,” he says. “I’m not averse to change by any means.”

A Sense of Community

“We are very excited about the addition of the Master of Social Work program to Montclair State’s graduate offerings,” says Vice Provost for Research and Graduate School Dean Scott Herness. “With its programmatic emphasis on children, youth and families, the MSW not only presents students with strong career opportunities but also serves our mission as a public institution to better the society in which we live.”

“The program has a cohort-based model – we accept a small number of students who will progress through the curriculum together,” says MSW Program Director and Social Work and Child Advocacy Professor Svetlana Shpiegel. Because the program is smaller than many other programs in New Jersey, each student benefits from individual attention from a full-time faculty of experts in their field.

For Lynch, choosing Montclair State’s new MSW program made sense after his positive undergraduate experience. “I get the feeling that the professors and the institution are fully invested in my success,” he says. “I have a personal relationship with each of my professors. They know what’s happening in my coursework, my field placement and my life – and that’s an important feature of this small cohort model. There’s also a sense of community with the students and a feeling that we’re all in it together.”

Meeting a Need

The U.S. Department of Labor predicts an above average growth rate of 16 percent in job opportunities for social workers between 2016 and 2026. According to Shpiegel, graduates of Montclair State’s two-year, full-time program could end up working in a wide range of agencies, such as the N.J. Department of Children and Families; schools; mental health and behavioral health clinics; as well as nonprofits that serve victims of abuse and neglect, at-risk youth and others.

“There’s also a lot of interest in clinical work among our students,” she says. “Certainly many are interested in private practice in the future. However, we also have students who are interested in social policy, working in child protection and in schools and hospitals.”

While the inaugural MSW cohort includes graduates from schools such as Tulane University, Kean University, Fairleigh Dickinson and Rutgers-Newark, Addrisa Ankrah, like Lynch, is a member of Montclair State’s Class of 2018.

Inspiring Change

Ankrah decided to pursue her degree as a result of her own experience with a medical social worker who helped her through a traumatic time. “Being diagnosed with renal failure and going on dialysis was a huge life event that was hard to navigate,” she says. “However, my social worker provided a safe space for me to explore my feelings about this transition. I want to inspire change and jump-start resiliency for others the way my social worker did for me.”

While Ankrah’s short-term professional goal is to work for a nonprofit doing in-home therapy with children, her long-term goal is to become a dialysis social worker and create her own nonprofit. “It’s important for me to create a safe space for children, youth and families to address challenges they may encounter in life by enhancing their coping skills,” she insists.

Invaluable Internship Experiences

Through her field placement internship at the Boys & Girls Club at Newark’s Wellness Center, Ankrah is already gaining hands-on experience in working with children. “I facilitate a group called DateSMART where sixth- through eighth-graders can discuss healthy versus unhealthy relationships.”

For Lynch, who is currently an intern with a prisoner reentry program for recent parolees, working with prisoners and parolees is a possible post-graduate career goal. “I teach group workshops on life skills and work readiness and also help clients locate services and potential employment opportunities,” he says. “It’s a hard job – even as an intern – and it’s an invaluable part of my educational experience.”

To learn more about Montclair State’s MSW program, visit