On June 19, the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) awarded Catholic University’s National Catholic School of Social Service (NCSSS) a five-year, $3.2 million grant under the Scholarships for Disadvantaged Students Program.

Through the program, NCSSS will improve the quality of and access to mental health services in medically underserved communities in and around Washington, D.C., by recruiting, supporting, and training individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds as future social workers. Per HRSA’s qualifications, disadvantaged is defined as students who are first-generation, come from a family that receives public assistance, are from low-income households, or have a physical, learning, or mental impairment.

“For more than 100 years, the National Catholic School of Social Service has been preparing students to go forth and reach the marginalized. This grant is important, as it fits with the mission of the school: to prioritize responding to the needs of the vulnerable by preparing social workers to work towards the improvement of mental health services in underserved communities.”

— Jo Anne Regan, dean of NCSSS

NCSSS will use the $640,000 per year to boost recruitment and retention of full-time students in its MSW programs. Scholarships of no more than $40,000 per year will be awarded based on each student’s financial need.

NCSSS also plans to enhance the recruitment of racial and ethnic minority students, who are historically underrepresented in health professional careers. NCSSS will partner with local colleges and universities, including historically black colleges and universities, to promote the scholarship to undergraduate students and work with local health and human services organizations to recruit paraprofessionals interested in pursuing an MSW. Sixteen scholarships will be awarded per year, with the first round of scholarships awarded in fall 2020.

The Institutional Partnerships Division of University Advancement worked closely with Chris Sabatino, chair of the MSW program and faculty principal investigator for this grant, to secure the funding.

“In the context of COVID-19 and ongoing racial social injustice, now more than ever there is a demand for well-trained, high-quality, diverse, and compassionate social workers. These scholarships will help NCSSS meet the current and emerging needs of communities. This grant is also reflective of an institutional culture of faculty and staff who are committed to preparing our students to make an impact on our community.”

— Lesa-Kaye Holtham, senior associate director of institutional partnerships

The project team — which also includes NCSSS’s Director of Admission and Financial Aid Aileen Worrell, Director of Field Education and Professional Development Roslynn Scott-Adams, and Director of Field Education (Online MSW Program) Danielle Stokes-Parker —  will lead NCSSS’s efforts to prepare and train scholarship recipients to work within primary care or medically underserved communities upon graduation

Sabatino said the HRSA grant award — which was only awarded to 79 programs across the country — is quite an honor. The funding will enable NCSSS to continue its long tradition of training professionals to serve the physical and mental health challenges of the most vulnerable individuals, families, and communities.