Penn State students climb Mount Vesuvius while visiting Italy through the HDFS in Florence summer program

Human Development and Family Studies Students Discover Themselves and the World

The comprehensive curriculum of Penn State Mont Alto's Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) degree program allowed Kevin Faust ’14 to find his passion, in part through the introspection encouraged by faculty.

"I was still figuring myself out when I got here. I knew I wanted to do something in the helping fields, but I wasn't sure what," Faust said.

HDFS students look at how people develop and how they form relationships throughout their lives. They learn skills for helping individuals, families, and groups through prevention programs and other intervention techniques. In addition, students learn how human service agencies and professionals deal with individual and family issues.

Penn State Mont Alto offers both associate and bachelor's degree options. The program is an interdisciplinary study program including fields such as biology, psychology, anthropology, and sociology.

Faust, who entered graduate school after obtaining his bachelor's degree, is now a family-based therapist who taught Penn State Mont Alto's HDFS 411 "The Helping Relationship" during the 2018 spring term. He is impressed by the quality of students' work, which includes developing thought records and evaluating children's art therapy.

Some of Mont Alto’s HDFS graduates are working in nursing homes, substance abuse recovery centers, YMCAs and YWCAs, childcare centers, and are therapy services providers.

"We know all our students. We know their strengths and what they need to work on," said Robin Yaure, baccalaureate program coordinator.

The program has a significant level of flexibility that allows it to be tailored to students' interests.

"We encourage students to concentrate in areas they want to focus on. We can provide courses that help them gain the knowledge they need,” Yaure said.

Amanda Napoli ’13 found she was drawn to the concept of case management after what was initially an uncertain start in her collegiate studies.

"I knew I wanted to help people in some capacity, but I wasn't sure how. I took the HDFS introduction course and really liked it because of all the different perspectives the professors gave," Napoli said, saying case management interests her because of how systems work together.

Napoli's internship at Roxbury Treatment Center led to a career there. She has worked in case management and counseling for those with chemical dependency and mental health needs.

"It's a very broad degree. You can do anything with it in the field, and the program gives you good insight into multiple facets," she said.

The elective program, HDFS in Florence, allows students to practice HDFS concepts learned in the classroom within a new cultural context through field trips, 400-level classes, and hands-on experiences in Italy. Students visit local schools, participate in cooking classes, and find relevancy in other experiences throughout their summertime seven week trip. This year, the cohort met a group of immigrants from North Africa, with a representative from an organization that helps immigrants settle.

“The goal is not only to help the students learn a new culture, but also to enhance the knowledge they have developed at home,” said Yaure, who has traveled with the group for nine years.

HDFS in Florence is open to students in majors other than Human Development and Family Studies who might benefit from the opportunity, and has included participants from the whole University who were majoring in Education, Psychology, Nursing, and Biobehavioral Health.