In this issue
Professor provides services in remote community
By Mary Stanton
The heat and humidity of Mississippi summers is partly to blame for a UM professor’s decision to spend five weeks as the only social worker in remote St. Paul Island, Alaska.
“I had just finished teaching [the first summer term]. It was hot and humid in Mississippi, and going to St. Paul Island, where the average summer temperature is 45, sounded like a good idea,” said Susan Allen, associate professor of social work. “I love community outreach and prior to teaching was a clinical social worker in community mental health for many years. I wanted to be of service. They had a need.”
Part of the Pribilof Islands, St. Paul is approximately 40 square miles and largely inhabited by native Aleuts. The strongly Russian Orthodox community has one store served by barges or air delivery. The remote location makes it difficult to fill jobs, even though Allen said the clinic is state-of-the-art.
“The St. Paul community was without services,” Allen said. “In the interim, Jane Bye, a colleague, asked if I would be able to help them out on an emergency basis.”
After agreeing to help, Allen hit the ground running, attending a community meeting as soon as she landed on the island in July. “I attended a potluck, met key people from the community and did a lot of listening,” Allen said.
The main focus of her work there was to handle crisis intervention, complete assessments and make recommendations for treatment intervention. Allen also provided interim clinical counseling and supportive problem solving for people.
“I was also doing community outreach with community leaders to address perceived needs in the community and provide support to other workers, such as the police department, families and workers in the agency,” Allen said.
Applied sciences Dean Linda Chitwood said Allen’s work in Alaska is an example of how important professions within the applied sciences field are to the health and stability of communities and families.
“Our faculty and students are engaged in providing the best practices and hands-on solutions to numerous critical health issues such as malnutrition, autism, stuttering, physical inactivity, child abuse, crime reduction and many more,” Chitwood said. “Developing professionals who will provide innovative solutions and leadership is the core mission of the programs within our school.”
Aside from work, Allen also enjoyed seeing Northern fur seals that dominate the landscape surrounding the Bering Sea.
“The rookeries were off limits to anyone except authorized people, but I was able to view from a distance, and it was really amazing,” Allen said.
Allen, who returned in August, said her experience in Alaska was one for which she will always be thankful.
“It was an amazing journey and experience, and one I will never forget.”