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Student Experience

Masters of Social Work program provides opportunities to students in the Four Corners region

By Doug McPherson

Something profound is growing in Durango, Colo. It’s been budding since 2002 and is now impacting not just the four corners of the West, but the four corners of the world.

Students who might not have had an opportunity for a rewarding life are now getting precisely that thanks to the University of Denver and its Four Corners Masters of Social Work (MSW) Program.

In the early dawn of the 21st century, the university planted that seed and it has taken root. And the fruits are being enjoyed not only by students with transformed lives reaching their potential as human service professionals, but also by all the people they now serve from Hawaii to Alaska, from Mexico to Kenya and from China to Bosnia. .

The goal was simple: to build a way to deliver human services in the Four Corners area to address the special needs of its rural and tribal communities. .

But early on, many were skeptical. Could the University of Denver reach rural communities that lacked internet access? Would students working full-time travel great distances for weekend classes? Would jobs even be waiting for graduates? .

The answers? A resounding ‘yes.’ DU professors now travel the 400 miles a couple of times a quarter to teach, but much of the instruction is handled via teleconference, and students have more than 140 internships to choose from in surrounding communities. .

To date, 119 students have graduated from the program – 24 percent of whom are Native American. .

Some of the money for the program came from the John and Sophie Ottens Foundation that delivers scholarships for Native American Four Corners students. The Ottenses died in 2000, but Dr. Henry Hooper of Ouray, Colo., took over as the foundation's board president. .

“We do site visits before we provide any funding, and we found students who are so motivated, working full-time and then driving in bad weather over mountain passes to attend classes on weekends," Hooper says. "It fits our mission very well and it’s filling a major need in the area." .


Through ASCEND Stories, we examine the impact that philanthropy has made on the lives of our students, faculty, alumni, and donors during ASCEND: The Campaign for the University of Denver.

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