Most college students have “that one professor” who’s made a profound difference in their education. Dr. Kylene Rehder’s impact goes beyond the classroom. The social work students at Northwestern Oklahoma State University get the benefit of her dedication to teaching, as well as her commitment to expand their career opportunities as she works to transform the social services landscape in Northwest Oklahoma.
After graduating from Northwestern with her Bachelor of Social Work in 2001, Rehder went to OU for her Master of Social Work but discovered she was at a disadvantage.
“When I registered for my master’s, I found out that I didn’t qualify for advanced standing. Only then did I learn that our undergraduate program was not externally accredited, meaning I had to take two years to get my MSW instead of one,” Rehder said. “That was the start of my desire to come back to Northwestern and make our program accredited.”
After her master’s, Rehder started work as clinical therapist before becoming an adjunct instructor at Northwestern. When a full-time professorship opened, she took the job with the main focus to gain external accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education.
“My goal with accreditation was that more students would come to the university for the social work program and stay in the region to practice in rural areas. Many graduates leave for a master’s program like OU and never come back,” she said. “I wanted to expand our communities’ access to professionally trained social workers.”
Accreditation is a four-year writing process that begins with self-study followed by a commission review of the university’s curriculum. Having a degree from an accredited program means graduates can sit for the licensing exam upon graduation with a BSW, while also having the opportunity for advanced standing in master’s programs. It’s a long and arduous process to ensure curriculum quality, academic improvement and public accountability. But Rehder took it in stride.
“This was one of those tasks that was so huge in nature, I’m not sure anyone believed I could do it. I was 25 at the time, quite naive and ambitious, but very determined,” Rehder said.
NWOSU began the accreditation path in 2005, and after a lengthy process and thorough review, they got word in 2009 that the program would become only the fifth accredited social work program in the state – and the only one in northwest Oklahoma. The application is retroactive, meaning any graduate since 2005 now has a degree from an accredited program.
“Since then, the growth of the program has been amazing. In 2005, we had 6 majors in the program. Now 40 to 50 are admitted in the program with 60 to 70 currently majoring,” Rehder said. “As a volunteer for the Oklahoma Medical Reserve Corps disaster response team, I’ve seen first-hand the incredible impact this has made. After the Woodward tornado several years ago, one of the things that struck me the most was that everywhere I looked, there was a graduate of mine! And not just ‘there,’ but they were leading teams and in charge of agencies – truly contributing to the community.”
Rehder was recently awarded the National Association of Social Workers “Social Worker of the Year” award for 2018, in no small part due to her efforts to achieve external accreditation for NWOSU. The association recognized Rehder for the detail and complication of the task and the resulting contribution to the community - a marked increase in professionally trained social workers in the region.
“Every one of our graduates are offered jobs before they leave, and most are staying in the region. I’m so excited to see how the landscape has changed in providing adequate social services,” she said. “And it’s not just about more graduates, it’s also the awareness in the region for the important work social workers do.”
“It’s just one of those things you think, ‘if I could do anything…’ I’d go back and contribute to my university and make an impact in the community. It really is a dream come true.”