Interview with Dr. Patrick Shannon – Associate Professor and Coordinator of the Online MSW Program at UNH

About Dr. Patrick Shannon, PhD: Dr. Shannon is the Coordinator of the Online MSW Program in the Department of Social Work at the University of New Hampshire. He is also the Coordinator of the Graduate Certificate Program in Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD), and a Core Social Work faculty Member on the New Hampshire Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (NH-LEND) interdisciplinary training program. Dr. Shannon earned his MSW from the University at Buffalo in Buffalo, New York and his Ph.D. from Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia. In the Online MSW program, Dr. Shannon teaches foundation year policy courses, Research Methods, Program and Practice Evaluation, and an elective in IDD.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Currently, there are approximately 25 universities offering online MSW programs. Why did the University of New Hampshire decide to start offering an online MSW program and how will the program be structured?

[Dr. Shannon] The University of New Hampshire, Department of Social Work decided that offering an online MSW was a Social Justice issue. Because New Hampshire is a rural state, access to the only MSW program in the state is challenging for many residents. Also, physical access to campus-based social work education is challenging for many individuals with disabilities. Online education is a way to improve access for all citizens.

Students enter in one of three cohorts of 15-20 per year (Fall, Spring, and Summer). The majority of instruction is asynchronous. The program is designed to be very flexible. The full time model that is presented to students is 28 months long. Students take 2 courses at a time in 5 eight week long terms. However, the advantage of a multiple cohort model is that required courses are offered frequently which creates the ability for students to create their own path through the program at a faster or slower pace. The education is exactly the same, only the delivery is different. Students must demonstrate the exact same competencies in each course and in their field work.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] UNH’s online MSW program is an Advanced Generalist program with the option to take electives in specific topics. For students who are just starting to research online MSW programs, can you briefly describe what it means to be an Advanced Generalist program? Does the program prepare students for a career in direct-service social work, clinical social work or both?

[Dr. Shannon] The Department of Social Work “educates social work professionals to work effectively with diverse individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities to optimize human potential for productive participation in society.” Our Advanced Generalist Curriculum trains students to develop and implement effective advanced interventions with client systems of various sizes, and to work in a variety of settings where social workers are employed. Students will gain the knowledge and skills to serve different populations in need at all levels of social work practice, including direct service and clinical social work. Furthermore, our program allows students to earn Graduate Certificates in Substance Abuse or Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.

We will soon be adding Graduate Certificate programs in Child Welfare, Trauma Informed Care, Gerontology, and Military Social Work. Additionally, students can specialize in any of the following Fields of Practice: (1) Health and mental health; (2) Addictions and substance abuse; (3) Children, youth, and families, and (4) Disabilities. Students may also create a self-designed field of practice. Students may specialize in a Field of Practice by completing two electives from a given field of practice; alternatively, they can choose to take four electives from multiple fields of practice.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who want to become licensed clinical social workers in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Board of Mental Health Practice requires students to take a percentage of their MSW courses on-campus. Does UNH allow students to take classes on-campus as well to meet the requirements?

[Dr. Shannon] For students who want to become licensed in New Hampshire, they can take the required number of credit hours face-to-face in either our Durham program or Manchester Executive model program.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Field Education is a major component of MSW programs and requires a significant time commitment from students. Many online programs are geared towards working professionals. How do you recommend students balance field education with other responsibilities (especially for a full-time online MSW program)?

[Dr. Shannon] Completing the required field work is one of the most rewarding but challenging components of graduate social work education. Our program requires 2 9-month field placements (2 days a week in year one and 3 days a week in year two). Fall Cohort students enter field in March, spring cohort in August, and summer cohort in January. Flexible placements (e.g., placements in the summer, with employer, non-traditional hours, or weekends) are very limited. We advise students to discuss options with their families and/or employers before entering the program to determine if they will have the flexibility to complete fieldwork.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] With the first class of students starting in January 2014, how will online students be assigned field placements? Will students be responsible for finding their own placements or will UNH direct the process? For students who are currently employed with a health services agency, will they have the option to complete their field education requirements at their current place of employment?

[Dr. Shannon] Students will work with our field department to identify placements in their home communities. The field department will vet placements and be the primary contact until a student is placed. As soon as a cohort has been accepted, our Field Coordinator begins researching potential sites in students’ communities. At the same time, students have input.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What advice do you have for professionals who are considering earning a MSW and possibly entering the field of social work for the first time?

[Dr. Shannon] I would try and do your homework as to the dedication of the program’s faculty to the student. Look at the ratios of full time faculty to adjuncts. I would make sure your classes are small, and intimate. Look for programs that have a community of practice built in your cohort. Make sure your program is accredited by CSWE.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who have already decided they want to pursue a MSW, but are unsure about online education, can you briefly explain some key considerations they should take into account prior to pursuing a MSW online?

[Dr. Shannon] You need to have STRONG self discipline. Plan on spending 10-15 hours a week on each class. This often can be done on nights and weekends but you need to have constant access to email, strong tech skills and the ability to multitask. If you are not good with time management online is not the program for you.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] As you mentioned, online education requires discipline from students to stay on track and keep up with coursework and assignments. What systems will the program have to ensure that online students do not fall behind? Do you have any recommendations for online students in terms of staying on track with coursework?

[Dr. Shannon] The module-based courses are set up so that you need to have the work in weekly; it should be caught within a week if the student is falling behind. Syllabi clearly lay out the expectations. This is graduate school and there are high expectations that the students need to meet in study skills, etc.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Online programs have really helped to open the door to higher education for more individuals, especially those who do not have access to a local university. Will the program at UNH accept students nationally or only from certain states?

[Dr. Shannon] We do have state authorization from specific states. http://online.unh.edu/master-of-social-work has a list of them that is current. We do accept students from all over the US, as long as we have this state authorization.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] For students who are ready to apply to the Online MSW Program at the University of New Hampshire, what advice do you have in terms of preparing their application? I know the program requires a personal statement.

[Dr. Shannon] Please make sure your essay is well edited, answers the questions and shows all your valuable and relevant work history that relates to social work. Make sure your references are strong; one should be academic and two professional in nature (Work, internship, etc.). Do not have friends or family write a letter.

[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] Finally, with more universities starting to offer online MSW programs, why should students consider the new program at UNH?

[Dr. Shannon] UNH MSW is a great program as our core faculty are the main professors to teach the classes. Our adjuncts we use are ones that have taught for us face-to-face for many years and are considered content experts in their discipline. We have a great infrastructure here at UNH to support us. Our program is small and focused on quality, not quantity of students and we strive to constantly improve our program. We have just finished our first year and so many of our decisions, polices, etc. are based on wonderful student feedback.

Students who are interested in getting more information about the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Social Work and/or its online MSW program can contact Dr. Shannon by email at Patrick.Shannon@unh.edu. For admissions information or specific questions about the online MSW program, students can contact Professor Cox by email at Trish.Cox@unh.edu. Students can also visit their website or contact UNH by email msw.info@unh.edu for more information.

Thank you Dr. Patrick Shannon for your time and insight, and thanks to Trish Cox, MSW, Clinical Assistant Professor and Online MSW Coordinator at UNH, who helped with the responses to our questions!


About the Author: Aaron Tooley, Ph.D. is a web content expert who is committed to building websites that help students make informed decisions about graduate school. He is passionate about researching and crafting high quality content about graduate programs and educational pathways.