- May 1, 2012
- 12:01 am
Majoring in service
Though many Loyola students hope to help people using their education, there is actually one major at Loyola that offers that in the form of a degree: human services.
“The major is for students who want to be in the helping profession; that is, helping individuals, families, and communities…through direct service, policy, and programs or even through advocacy,” says Layla Suleiman Gonzalez, PhD, director of the human services program. “The options run the gamut.”
Though it may seem like an ambiguous field to someone not familiar with it, Suleiman Gonzalez says she looks at the field in three dimensions. The first is that it covers a variety of populations, from pre-birth to geriatrics to post-mortem: “the entire life,” she points out. The second is the nature of the services ranges from ensuring basic human needs are met, such as hunger and homelessness, to offering more systematic change, through advocacy and prevention. The third is that it can contain a variety of settings. “From city, state, to national levels, from community all the way to international… it’s not just about direct service, there is a need for managers, researchers, policy development, and marketing to resource development,” points out Suleiman Gonzalez. “Roles could be played from accountants to event planners.”
At Loyola, human services is an interdisciplinary major, meaning it draws courses from the fields of political science, social work, sociology, criminal justice, and psychology. Currently, those enrolled in the major follow one of three concentrations: child and adolescent psychology, mental health, gerontology, and aging. But students have the opportunity to tailor the major to their interests, with elective class offerings ranging from African American Politics to World Cultures, and nearly every subject in between.
Suleiman Gonzalez points out that because it is interdisciplinary, the major works extremely well as a double major with one of the departments courses are drawn from, but she also said the industry is changing and growing to encompass more disciplines. One area she pointed out is biology, as the 2013 MCAT is including more questions on the link between health and human services than ever before. Another area she mentioned is communication, as non-profits and advocacy groups are looking for better public relations and marketing to spread their message.
Junior human services and communications major and sociology minor, and incoming student body president Julia Poirier says the connection between advocacy and communications is what drew her to the major.
“It is exactly what I wanted in my two majors; I just didn’t [originally] know it existed,” she says.
Poirier says she was bouncing around majors until she had a conversation with a student enrolled in the program. When she found out it offered a way to study several different areas at once, she changed her major the next day.
“I really appreciated that it was composed of five majors because I take interest in each of them,” she says. “You can take what is most valuable about each and combine into one. It offers a broad overview of different social issues and how different people see them.”
She also points out that there is a big emphasis on experiential learning: “they really force you to step out of your comfort zone and try different aspects of the field,” she says. Suleiman Gonzalez also points out that by the end of the program, students complete more than 325 internship hours in two to three settings, which from Poirier’s perspective, means that students are able to discern their interests before graduation.
“You acquire so many hours, you really get your feet wet,” Poirier says.
Suleiman herself is a veteran of the human services field working in the Illinois Department of Human Services as director of strategic planning and performance, as a principal at Suleiman and Associates, and as an assistant professor of education policy studies and research at DePaul University, where she got her JD. However, she began her career at Loyola as an undergraduate student studying applied psychology, and later returned to Loyola to earn her PhD in developmental psychology. She points out that the major fits perfectly with Loyola’s commitment to social justice and service.
“I think it embodies the very message and the very goal of the education that we do here at Loyola, which is about social justice,” she says. “It embodies the Ignation philosophy of social justice.”