By Mike Kilen
GCU News Bureau
It was a worrisome time for Miranda Diaz. She returned home to Texas in March when the pandemic hit, leaving behind her life at Grand Canyon University and a part-time job. Her graduation loomed in five weeks, and she wondered if she could get a job in troubling times.
Then the phone rang -- just two days before her graduation in late April. She was offered a job, “which was really fun to say” at the celebration, Diaz said.
The groundwork for the job was laid earlier in the year via GCU’s effort to link students with employers in behavioral health agencies.
Her worries were over.
“To have this opportunity despite the pandemic is amazing,” said Diaz, who started work as a case manager at Copa Health in Phoenix the second week of May. “I know so many people working from home or out of work, so it was a huge blessing and big surprise how easy it was for me.”
The new relationship with Copa is one of a growing number between GCU and behavioral health agencies.
Dr. Noé Vargas, Assistant Dean in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, said job opportunities are numerous because of a shortage of behavioral health professionals to serve increasing mental health issues of stress and anxiety in tumultuous times.
Vargas, who worked for 10 years in behavioral health in the Phoenix area, has tapped into his industry contacts who are eager to hire entry-level employees after they graduate.
“You really have to have a heart to help. It’s more than a job, it’s really a calling to support people in their toughest times,” Vargas said.
GCU students are dedicated to helping and are well-trained in up-to-date information on mental health from faculty that not only teach it but often work in the field, he said. “(Students) learn the theory but also the actual practice.”
Diaz quickly learned the value of those GCU-employer relationships. In her last capstone course before leaving campus in the spring, a representative from Copa was invited to class to talk to students about jobs.
“Out of the four classes I talked to, we hired two students, which is a good start,” said Karen Vargas, a Copa recruiter and niece of Dr. Vargas.
Copa provides therapeutic, rehabilitative and social services for people with developmental, physical and behavioral health challenges. She said GCU students were targeted because they are well prepared.
“They have to learn the documenting process, which is unique,” she said. “In case management there is a lot of documentation, a way to write notes and follow up, and they have a good grasp of what that entails.”
Diaz found that her class in case management prepared her well in the practical applications of her job, as she begins to work with clients on a deeper, more personal level.
“It is such a reward to have clients come to Copa and say, ‘I need you and trust you can help me.’ They have the strength to come in and say they need help, and to help them get services is a huge reward,” she said.
In recent months, the network of behavioral health employers working with GCU has expanded with more job and internship opportunities for graduates with a bachelor’s degree in the field, said Haley Fagerlie, Executive Director for GCU’s Strategic Employer Initiatives & Internships.
Thirty-six agencies attended the Psychology and Social Services Practicum Fair in October. Numerous agencies also came to classrooms before the pandemic and will continue to recruit remotely. Copa Health is holding a virtual information session for GCU students on June 24. (Email [email protected] for more information.)
“They find our students have a heart for the individual and have a heart for the community,” said Marquis Scott, program manager in Career Services.
Educational partnerships also are growing between GCU and behavioral health agencies, whose employees can return to college for more education with GCU and also link with GCU students as future employees.
“It’s really full service. We are providing solutions for employers who want to grow their companies,” said Joe Cuttone, University Development Manager.
When the employers come to campus to speak with students, it isn’t just career-day fluff. It can mean a job after graduation. TaylorRae Schnepp got a job with Red Mountain Behavioral Health Services after they visited her class, as detailed in the April GCU Magazine story on the University’s efforts to help students find jobs.
Southwest Behavioral Health & Services has been a big employer of GCU students, and CEO Steven Sheets is an alumnus.
“There’s an approach that I think GCU fosters of expecting more. We get students who are eager to learn, eager to serve and ready to impact the community,” Sheets told the magazine.
Aylin Estrada, a psychology student, got a job even before she graduated in April. She came across information on Southwest Network through GCU’s Academic and Career Excellence Center (ACE) and learned of a job fair, where she talked with officials from the company in October and applied for a job in March.
A week later, she was hired by Southwest Network as a case manager for children with behavioral health issues.
“The relief it brings to a child who has been struggling for a while is rewarding in itself. It’s difficult but it’s a small triumph,” she said.
“I feel like GCU provided excellent academic standards to make sure we were here not only learning but making sure we had a job after we graduate.”
Grand Canyon University senior writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.
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