As Program Director of WCJC's Human Services Program, Victoria Schultz provides students with a pathway to rewarding careers in social work, psychology, human services, criminal justice and sociology.
WHARTON, TEXAS – Andrea Ochoa didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life when she moved from Illinois to Texas four years ago with her young son. She had a fascination with human behavior and psychology, but didn’t know how to apply those interests to a good job.
It was a tragic personal event – one that led her to seek assistance from a women’s shelter – that revealed to her a specific career path.
“When I sought out help for myself I remembered the breath of life and inspiration they gave to me, and I realized I wanted to be that for other people,” Ochoa said. “I knew then that I wanted to become a human services worker.”
Ochoa heard of Wharton County Junior College’s Human Services Program and decided to give it a try. The small class sizes, support from her fellow students, and leadership from Program Director Victoria Schultz quickly proved to her that she made the right decision.
“Ms. Schultz makes an effort to be there for her students and gets us ready for the field,” she said.
Preparing students for the rigors of the field is at the heart of the Human Services Program. Offering both a one-year certificate and a two-year AAS degree, the program offers courses that cover basic counseling, community health, substance-related addiction, aging and crisis intervention. Practicums are also part of the curriculum, with students obtaining real-life application at clinical sites in Wharton, Fort Bend, Brazoria, Calhoun and Matagorda counties. Ochoa is completing her practicum at Texana Behavioral Health Center in Rosenberg.
Schultz, the program’s only director since its inception in 2005, believes strongly in augmenting classroom study with practical experience. In addition to teaching at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, she spent years working in private practice and as a clinician for the largest mental health facility in Alaska.
“When considering practicum placements, we try to accommodate each student based on their particular needs and places of residence,” said Schultz, the program’s only director since its inception in 2005.
Roxane Marek, Director of the Matagorda/Wharton County Community Supervision and Corrections Department, said her department has served as an internship site for Human Services students since 2013. The students were impressive enough that Marek hired several following graduation.
“Human services interns have been head and shoulders above the average intern because of their professionalism, ethics and knowledge of human behavior,” Marek said. “As employees, these students have flourished. While they may need some training on our specific policies and procedures, they already possess an outstanding knowledge of how to work with clients as well as an appropriate level of empathy.”
Such testimonials are music to Schultz’s ears as she has worked diligently to create a high-level program that equips students for success. The program is accredited through the Council for the Standards of Human Service Education (CSHSE), making it the only accredited AAS degree program in Texas.
A program of that caliber is a natural draw for students like Haley Hughes. A Bellville native who now calls Wallis home, Hughes said she wanted to go into the human services field and, after some research, quickly determined that WCJC’s program was second to none. She has since appreciated the program’s tight-knit bond.
“My favorite part of the program is how we all work together and grow together. During my time in the program, we’ve been through a major flood, a major freeze and COVID-19,” she said. “We all stood strong, encouraged each other, overcame and adapted.”
Hughes’s future plans are to transfer to the University of Houston-Victoria and obtain a bachelor’s degree. Illinois native Ochoa has similar plans, intending to pursue her bachelor’s in psychology and then work for the child welfare system.
Schultz said within two years of graduation, 100 percent of her program’s graduates are either employed in the field or continuing their education at the university level. Job opportunities are growing, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook indicating a 17 percent growth over the next decade for social and human services assistants, a job that requires only an AAS degree. The handbook lists median pay for such positions at around $35,000. Students opting to pursue a four-year degree or obtain their master’s degree can find employment as a social worker, which has a median salary of just over $50,000. Job outlook for social workers is growing as well, with a 13 percent rise anticipated over the next decade.
“The umbrella of Human Services is quite large,” Schultz said. “For this program, students who graduate typically continue in the fields of human services, psychology, social work, criminal justice and sociology.”
For more information on WCJC’s Human Services Program, visit the college website at wcjc.edu