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One of Cayuga Community College’s newest programs is quickly becoming a popular option for students thanks to a combined emphasis on experiential learning and community involvement.
Now in its second academic year, the Human Services program at Cayuga has already exceeded enrollment projections, with students benefiting from rigorous classroom instruction and a growing field of internship possibilities. The program, which graduated its first student in 2022, prepares students to enter the workforce or to transfer to a four-year institution to continue their education.
But the Human Services program has done more than prepare students for their next step, said Professor Eric Zizza, who designed the program and chairs the College’s School of Social Sciences and Education. It’s shown students that human services is an industry with dozens of career possibilities.
“There’s a tendency to think that human services means becoming a social worker, and yes, that is an important career avenue the program explores. But there’s more to human services than one career option,” said Zizza. “Between our classroom instruction and the support of our internship supervisors, we’re showing students dozens of career pathways that are committed to helping our community.”
The combination of classroom discussion and field experience is a key component to the program’s success, according to Alyssa Smithler, who is earning her Associate of Science in Human Services in December.
Smithler interned with Cayuga Counseling Services and East Hill Medical Center as part of the program, and is hoping to eventually identify a career supporting adolescent students.
“Everything we learned in class was incredibly relevant to what I did at my internships. We were getting that experience in class to prepare us for the field,” she said. “Working in the field is the best part of the job — I think that’s true with any career in human services. That’s when you interact with your clients, and it can be challenging. But that’s when you get to see them grow and develop.”
Lauren Kingsley’s interest in a career in human services started during the COVID-19 pandemic, when she could see children and teenagers struggling with social skills after not interacting as often with people of similar ages. Both of her internships at the college put her in position to work with students to overcome those problems.
Kingsley is eager to continue working with college students as a counselor in the years ahead after earning her Cayuga degree.
“I want to connect with students and help them develop the skills they need to build relationships in their personal and professional lives,” said Kingsley. “This program, because it emphasizes field experience and in-depth classroom discussion with faculty and other students, is a great way to build the skills I need to be in a position to help other students.”
The internships also help local employers build a future workforce at a time when the human service industry is seeing a growing need.
“There’s a significant need that is growing exponentially, particularly to support people in behavioral and mental health,” said Katrina Garrigan, the Director of Behavioral Health at East Hill Medical. “Human services provides aid, resources and education to a population that is very underserved. Some people need to know there’s someone there to help them. And that’s what you’re doing, whether it’s in a group setting or one-on-one. You’re the lifeline for that person.”
Michael Prime, SEMP Program Manager of Liberty Resources, said the internships are essential to helping students identify their career pathway. Liberty Resources also hosts internships for the program.
“Students get first-hand knowledge by working with people in the field. A student can come in, work with us, and they get a reality check of what the job is. They get that experience — what the job means to the person you’re helping, our agency and the community as a whole,” he said.
To facilitate students learning about additional career options, the Human Services program offers concentrations in Corrections/Parole, Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation, Educational Support and Social Work. Regardless of the concentration, students must complete internships in their third and fourth semesters to gain field experience.
The program offers groundwork and skills needed for students to pursue careers as community health workers, substance abuse or mental health counselors, parole and probation officers, teacher aides, school counselors, therapists and more.
Cayuga also offers articulation agreements to support students who are interested in transferring to continue their education after earning their degree. Agreements are available with SUNY Albany, SUNY Cortland, SUNY Empire, Keuka College and Nazareth College.
Faculty will be available to discuss the Human Services program at the College’s Open House and Financial Aid Days, scheduled for the Auburn Campus on Saturday, Oct. 29, and the Fulton Campus on Saturday, Nov. 12. Both days are scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon.