University of Arkansas – Fort Smith students will soon have the option to add a Certificate of Proficiency in Spanish for the Helping Professions to their academic resume thanks to a collaboration between the Department of World Languages and social work, psychology, and health sciences programs at UAFS.
“We are delighted to offer this certificate as it equips our graduates with incredibly useful and sought-after skills and assists our Spanish-speaking neighbors to find quality care more easily,” said Dr. Mary A. Sobhani, department head of world languages at UAFS.
The certificate program passed board approval from the University of Arkansas Board of Trustees last week, and classes will begin this summer, providing workers in helping professions such as healthcare and social services with the Spanish language skills necessary to effectively communicate with patients and clients. In addition, it aims to fosters an understanding of cultural values, behaviors, and attitudes among Hispanic and Latinx populations.
“We are proud of our distinguished faculty, who fastidiously focus on creative ways to prepare students for the workforce while pushing the envelope of university social responsibility,” said Dr. Paulette Meikel, who presented the program to the board. “The Board of Trustees' approval of this new certificate of proficiency exemplifies the UA System’s nod to UAFS' commitment to linguistic diversity and creating value for all stakeholders in an increasingly multicultural community.”
Completing the certificate will empower students to transition into the workforce ready to serve the burgeoning Hispanic and Latinx populations in the River Valley and Northwest Arkansas. They will join a cadre of culturally competent healthcare and social services workers with fully developed language skills and interpretation tools to facilitate communication and appreciate Spanish-speaking clients' rich cultural background.
“Medical and social services appointments can be emotionally taxing in the best of circumstances,” Sobhani added. “When language and culture is a barrier, this stress increases tenfold. By training providers in the helping professions to offer informed care to Spanish-speaking patients and clients, we are contributing to the betterment of our communities. That's why I, personally, am so happy with this new certificate offering.”
The certificate requires nine hours of coursework, including SPAN 2303 Intermediate Spanish I; SPAN 2313 Intermediate Spanish II (or SPAN 2323 Intermediate Spanish II for Heritage Speakers); and SPAN 2833 Spanish for the Professions, as pertinent to a student’s main course of study.
The first of the course, Intermediate Spanish I, will be offered in the summer of 2021 and each semester thereafter with courses continuing into fall and spring semesters.
In developing the program UAFS faculty noted deficits in bilingual social workers and therapists in Fort Smith and wider Northwest Arkansas regions. According to the U.S. Census website, the latest estimates show Fort Smith's Latinx/Hispanic population at 19.1percent. Additionally, according to the Profile of Social Workforce’s 2017 national report to the Council on Social Work Education and National Workforce Initiative Steering Committee, Arkansas ranks the lowest of all states in terms of social workers per capita with only 80 social workers per 100,000 individuals. Although this report does not break down the number of Hispanic/LatinX social workers in Arkansas, it indicates that approximately 10 percent of social workers nationally are Hispanic.
The certificate aligns with the vision and mission of the university’s social work, psychology, and health science programs by preparing professional, ethical, and culturally competent practitioners and educating students through integrated theory, innovative practice, and technology in the classroom and clinical settings.