Pacific awarded $1.7M grant to support occupational therapy, social work students

students in the occupational therapy program

Students in Pacific's Doctor of Occupational Therapy program

Students in University of the Pacific’s occupational therapy and social work programs who have overcome adversity will receive financial assistance and support with funding from a new $1.7 million grant.

The grant, provided by California’s Department of Health Care Access and Information, is intended to increase the number of behavioral health care workers in the state while supporting students who have overcome barriers to pursue their education.

Current and future students are eligible if they have experienced homelessness, grew up in foster care or were involved in the justice system as youth.

“These students are already very resilient,” said Natalie Perkins, chair and program director of occupational therapy. “They have brought themselves here and persevered. Now they’re going to get a combination of not just our training, but also mentorship, educational support and counseling. We want to take a holistic view of their success and set them up for a career they are firmly prepared for.”

The grant will support 17 students over three years for a total of 51. Each grant recipient will receive more than $26,000 for living expenses in addition to robust student support services.

Pacific’s School of Health Sciences is committed to training a diverse behavioral health workforce. Since launching in 2020, 65% of students in the Master of Social Work and Doctor of Occupational Therapy programs have come from underrepresented minority groups.

“There is a desperate need for more social workers with lived experience and from underrepresented populations,” said Amanda West, social work chair and program director. “This fits in with what our program is trying to do. To come in with your own experience in those areas and then add a skillset is not only needed, it’s very valuable.”

This is the fourth grant Pacific’s School of Health Sciences has received from the Department of Health Care Access and Information over the past year, including a $6 million grant awarded in 2023 to expand the social work program.

Pacific also received a $200,000 donation from HealthForce Partners Northern San Joaquin Valley to address behavioral health care shortages. The gift provides scholarships to students in the Master of Social Work and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology programs.