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GCSW Alum and Staff Member Continues Career at UH College of Medicine



June 9, 2020

(HOUSTON, TX) -Berenice Hernandez Becerra (MSW '16), former Program Manager of the AVANCE Evaluation Program was recently named Program Director of Household Centered Care Model at the UH College of Medicine (COM).

"Tasked with bringing together students from Medicine, Nursing, Social Work, as well as Community Health Workers to work closely with families, the Household Care Model at the COM is one of the hallmarks of their curriculum," said Drs. Luis R. Torres and Sheara Jennings in a joint statement. Both professors serve as co-evaluators of the AVANCE program.

Hernandez Becerra joined the GCSW in 2014 as an MSW student. Here she shares about her time at AVANCE and how she hopes her new role at the COM and her social work background will help advance public health.


Name: Berenice Hernandez Becerra
Preferred Pronouns: She/Her
Graduation Year from the GCSW: 2016
Former Title and Program Managed at the GCSW: Program Manager for AVANCE and now Program Director of Household Centered Care Model at College of Medicine

What is the goal of the AVANCE Evaluation Program, and how did your role fit that goal?

AVANCE-Houston Program Evaluation aims to use a rigorous, high-quality "impact" evaluation to measure changes in program objectives from a Healthy Marriage and Relationship Education Program (HMRE) funded by the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The five year program serves 500 adults and 100 youth per year throughout the Greater Houston Metropolitan Area. It includes a Randomized Clinical Trial in the middle three years, where participants are assigned to the treatment condition (a 7-week Healthy Relationships Curriculum) or a control condition (a 12-month Wait List with Minimal Case Management Services).

I played a crucial role in designing and implementing the evaluation and overseeing the daily management and supervision of all employees and trainees assigned to the project and served as the primary liaison to the local agency that is the grant recipient (AVANCE Houston).

How did your education at the GCSW prepare you for your role at AVANCE and now at the College of Medicine?

My educational background provided me with the expertise to understand and value the role of evaluation and research in social work practice. Assessment is an essential component that allows us to uncover the truth behind what is occurring and understand what we don't see. Practical assessment enables us to differentiate between "what we think is working" to "what we know to be true based on facts." It allows us to create interventions and programs that are rooted in research and facts.

After leading a program evaluation for several years, I have now entered a new phase in my career where I will lead a new program at the COM that focuses on providing coordinated care to families in the Third Ward and East End. In this program, we will have to continuously monitor and evaluate if the program's efforts are making a difference in the family's lives and eradicating the social determinants of health in these communities.

Who is someone who inspired you to go into the work you are currently doing/social work?

My community has inspired me to face the injustices that rob and steal the dignity, value, and respect of individuals that live in it. They have motivated me to uncover and reveal the systems that hold our communities down. I am inspired to bring light to the voices and experiences of these individuals through the research and creation of programs developed alongside them.

What are some of the challenges you see currently in your area of work?

At the moment, we are currently starting the implementation face of the Household Centered Care Program. The current situation with COVID-19 has complicated everything since we must work remotely, and previously agreed upon plans have to be modified to follow social distancing and health guidelines.

COVID-19 has also brought to light the many barriers and obstacles community members face when obtaining proper care and assistance. These challenges are an opportunity to rethink and prepare our community health workers to address the disparities in access that our community currently faces.

Why do you believe it is essential for social workers to be included in the conversation when it comes to providing care?

Social workers can be a patients' best advocate and resource tool to help them navigate the difficult and complex healthcare system. When social workers work with patients, they recognize that other systems affect the individual. When we begin to realize and approach care through a holistic lens, it opens up a multitude of opportunities to address the root cause of challenges and difficulties experienced by individuals wanting and needing to obtain care.

What is something you would like for those who might not be familiar with your area of work to know?

Evaluation and research are critical in the field of Social Work. These tools allow us to showcase the effectiveness of our practices and bring to light the importance of one of our most prominent guiding principles, which is seeing the person-in-environment. When we continue to use these tools in our practices, we continue to expand the wealth of knowledge that supports the use of holistic approaches to serving communities and individuals.