PicofNativeAmerPowowThe Department of Social Work Education at Fresno State is working to increase the number of Native American graduates in the department through implementation of SERVE: Indigenous Community Social Workers for Change.

The goal of the SERVE program is to preserve the culture of Native American children and families, particularly those working in the area of child welfare. SERVE also seeks to foster leadership development and partnerships among tribal nations and indigenous communities in Fresno County.

Fresno State is surrounded by 24 counties with large Native American populations.“Despite the large number of tribes in the region of Central California, that number is not reflected through the number of Native American students on campus”, said Dr. Virginia Rondero Hernandez, principal investigator and chair in the Department of Social Work Education.

There has been a 50 percent decrease in American Indian and Alaska Native students within a 10-year period at Fresno State, according to 2012 data from the University’s Office of Institutional Effectiveness. Among master’s level students, the two-year graduation rate fell from 100 percent in 2003 to 33 percent in 2010.

“These numbers are alarming in the social work arena given the disproportionate representation of Native American children in the child welfare system in the region and nation,” Rondero Hernandez said. “These children account for 0.9 percent of the population in the U.S., yet they make up 2.1 percent of the population in foster care.”

In December, Fresno State announced its American Indian Recruitment and Resource Initiative with the goal to double the number of American Indian students enrolling at Fresno State by fall 2016.

In the Social Work Education Department, a project coordinator will be hired through SERVE to recruit and provide outreach to Native American students interested in applying for a bachelor’s or master’s degree in social work with a specialization in child welfare, which is offered through the department’s Title IV-E program.

IMG_0784The project coordinator will work with Native American students in field placements and internships in tribal agencies or agencies that work with a large tribal population, as well as to help identify and build relationships with tribal communities.

According to the 2011 National Indian Education Study, almost two-thirds of American Indian and Alaska Native eighth graders never speak with a school counselor regarding high school courses or future college plans. At the high school level, 25 percent of these students were without diplomas.

“It’s important to continue letting youth in rural and urban areas know that higher education at Fresno State is an option for them,” said Hector Cerda, regional coordinator with the California Youth Connection. “We need to target them at a younger age and give them this information so they can be exposed. Producing and training more social workers who can then go back into tribal communities as child welfare and social workers is crucial.”

Cerda, a Fresno State alumnus, received his bachelor’s (2008) and master’s (2011) and was responsible for founding the First Nations Student organization on campus in 2006.

Fresno State joins three other California State University campuses that have implemented the SERVE program: CSU Stanislaus, Humboldt State and San Diego State.

SERVE was founded in 1981 through the University of California, Berkeley American Indian/Alaskan Native Program in Social Welfare, known then as the American Indian Recruitment Program. It was adopted by the California Social Work Education Center in 1999 and expanded in 2011 to increase statewide outreach across all regions and communities.

For more information, contact Dr. Virginia Rondero Hernandez at 559.278.8478.