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Training Social Workers in the Age of COVID

Shedding a Light on Humanity in the Valley


Dr. Rolando Longoria, chair of sociology (above) and social work instructor, Noel A. Ysasi share contributions made by STC students in the Social & Behavioral Sciences department in the age of COVID. Dr. Longoria teaches in the discipline of sociology and professor Ysasi in the discipline of social work as well as the advisor for the Social Work Club.

South Texas College Social & Behavioral Sciences department has one mission, and it starts with self-investment.

From California graduates to licensed social workers, STC professors, Dr. Rolando “Rolo” Longoria and professor Noel A. Ysasi share monumental contributions made in the Rio Grande Valley by our very own.

The unexpected Coronavirus (COVID-19), which has been battled by many since its first appearance in 2019, is still being fought today.

To apply what Dr. Longoria and professor Ysasi have in common - a passion for helping others, is to encourage their students to do the same.

Dr. Longoria, chair of sociology specializes in the study of social life, social change and the social causes and consequences of human behavior. In short, it is the observation of a community’s needs.

“We want [students] to be aware of their society, how it works, the social problems that are occurring in their society and how to fix them,” said Longoria.

As a graduate of the University of California and Stanford University, Longoria has not experienced any other community quite like the RGV. As a six-year resident of the area, he’s quickly seen how responsive the people have been from assisting with sandbag distributions to donating supplies amid the pandemic. At first, he thought these were acts of kindness but realized it was the community’s character showing.

“One of the amazing things about our community is that our residents are always dedicated to helping one another,” he said. “The people power is amazing here and we are willing to help each other.”

Longoria shares his studies of interests that have impacted widespread violence like femicide and hate crimes, and what people can do to create an equal society with less violence.

Dr. Rolando Longoria, Social Work Department Chair
“We want [students] to be aware of their society, how it works, the social problems that are occurring in their society and how to fix them."
Dr. Rolando Longoria, Social Work Department Chair

“These two disciplines (sociology and social work) together don’t just stay at the college level, but are designed to be used by the people,” he said.

As for changes to this fall semester, textbooks for sociology students will be completely free through the department’s created curriculum. This relieves any financial burdens for three-fourths of the term.

“We believe in bringing tools to society that they can use in their everyday lives,” adds Longoria.

Shifting to the discipline of social work, professor and advisor, Noel A. Ysasi shares a special organization located at STC’s Mid-Valley campus and their efforts in aiding COVID-19 patients.

An organization that first began at the Pecan campus by another social work instructor in 2013, known as the Social Work Club had a tough start. Just like many new campus organizations, the club struggled to grow in members. That wasn’t the case when Ysasi stepped in and became the primary club advisor at the Weslaco campus.

The organization since then has been going strong and had its most challenging year in facing the pandemic.

“My club has been extremely active in the past year, but with the pandemic, it’s been a challenge,” said Ysasi.

A challenge indeed, but a rewarding one at that.

At the start of the pandemic in Spring 2020, the club took on a huge project in fundraising for COVID-19 patients. Countless Zoom meetings were held with Ysasi and students as well as social welfare agencies and community businesses who joined in. Members from the club aided in making care packages for COVID-19 patients quarantining at McAllen’s Catholic Charities Respite Center.

“The club officers came up with the idea to fundraise throughout the semester and donate hygiene products to COVID-19 immigrants staying at the center,” shares Ysasi.

After fundraising a good amount in donations, the club changed course and donated $500 to STC’s Student Food Pantry.

“It’s quite remarkable for any organization at STC to come up with that amount of money,” said Ysasi.

As an active and growing discipline that takes action by helping others, Ysasi shares the countless job opportunities social work can offer.

Ysasi, whose been in the field of social work for 30 years has worked with state agencies, hospitals, nursing homes and in-home health.

When asked why go into the field of social work? He recalls meeting a blind gentleman shortly after graduating from high school – something the gentleman and he have in common.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with myself, and this gentleman came by my house one day and said, ‘You're idled, you haven’t done much.’”

That gentleman was a counselor for a state agency and as Ysasi listened attentively to the man, he was there to help him not waste any more time.

It was Ysasi’s freshman year of college at Pan American University who wondered just like many freshmen - what am I going to study?

“I wanted to see which area I best fit in and because I was so impressed with the gentleman, I knew I wanted to be a part of a helping profession,” Ysasi said.

In 1972, Pan American University started its first social work program where Ysasi became “fixated on majoring in that area.” He graduated with a bachelor’s in Social Work and two master's in counseling and Social Work by the late 80s.

He uses his social work experiences in the classroom which students enjoy, he said.

“This discipline has been the longest ongoing profession from working with children, the elderly, other vulnerable groups and with immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley,” Ysasi said.

He is proud of the Social Work Club’s accomplishments and leaves students who are just starting their college journey with one piece of advice – “seek inventory of yourself.”

For more information about South Texas College Social & Behavioral Sciences Department, visit https://lass.southtexascollege.edu/sbs/ .