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The Immeasurable Value of a Human Services Major

Katherine Stohlman

Borders Hall

As the Mount St. Mary’s University mission statement declares, the university “graduates ethical leaders who are inspired by a passion for learning and lead lives of significance in service of God and others.” To many prospective students, this might sound abstract or even unrealistic. But time and time again, Mounties demonstrate the success of this mission. One group of graduates and professors who are putting the mission into practice are those from the human services program.

Relatively new, a Human Services major has been available at the Frederick campus since 2014 and was introduced at the Emmitsburg campus a few years later. The field of human services is a rapidly growing one—the skills these students provide are in high demand. “Many people don’t realize this, but Human Services is the single largest organized enterprise in America,” observed Jack Trammell, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Emmitsburg human services program and chair of the Department of Sociology, Criminal Justice and Human Services. He went on to note that the suffering and uncertainties caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have made human services majors more necessary than ever. In fact, the growth in related careers in the U.S. is only outpaced by the growth of those in the technology sector. 

"People come to the Mount and they find out through their experience here that one person really can make a difference," Trammell said.

Human services is a course of study that can be hard to concretely define. Broadly speaking, a major in human services enables one to, well, be of service to people or a community, in hands-on ways. In practice, courses cover an array of topics, from business to psychology. A student of Human Services might take a class in social inequality, a class in human development, one in the principles of therapy, and another in managing a nonprofit, and all the classes would be part of the major requirements at the Mount. Undergraduates taking human services courses might also be earning majors in education, psychology, or health sciences—these disciplines overlap with human services in some way. What unites the students in human services courses is a desire to assist others in facing personal and social issues.

hs-m.thompson-in-text.jpgAs such a diverse field of study, human services lends itself well to many career paths. “Human services is such a broad degree; you can do so many things with it,” noted Michaila Thompson, an alumna of the adult accelerated undergraduate program at the Frederick Campus.

Common human services jobs are related to healthcare and counseling, such as substance abuse counselor, palliative care specialist, mental health nurse, or treatment specialist. Human services majors often pursue careers in therapy, especially working with vulnerable or needy communities. Like Thompson, who manages a senior healthcare facility, they might work in a specialized area of a broad field. They might go into social work as a case manager or child advocate, they might operate a charity organization, or they might become a pastor or parish worker. The opportunities are as varied as they are vast.

Naturally, the students on the Emmitsburg campus began to show interest in a program that produced such well-equipped graduates. The human services major and minor were introduced on the Emmitsburg campus in 2018, becoming part of the Criminal Justice, Sociology, and Human Services department. The inaugural human services class graduated in 2021, and today, one-third of all Emmitsburg students studying under that department are majoring or minoring in human services.

hs-m.maisel-3-in-text.jpgThe 17 inaugural graduates in human services at Emmitsburg in 2021 have enjoyed enormous success and all are currently employed in helping fields or pursuing graduate degrees. Molly Maisel, C’21, added a minor in human services as she completed her major in psychology. “I chose to minor in human services after learning of the possibility of taking a course on Death and Dying through the minor. The human services minor perfectly complemented my psychology major as it allowed me to learn about advocating for marginalized communities within the career I was striving to have as a therapist,” she shared. She’s now studying for her master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling, with a certification in thanatology (the study of death and bereavement), the subject that drew her to human services in the first place, with the aim of working as a bereavement counselor in a hospice setting.

hs-a.martinez-in-text.jpgAndrea Martinez, also a member of the Class of 2021, initially struggled with what to study at the Mount. “I switched my major three times before coming across the human services major,” she remembered. But once she discovered the new human services program, she knew it was a perfect fit. “The major had everything I am passionate about; helping people and advocacy for mental health and social work. I fell in love right away with the classes.” Despite having graduated less than a year ago, Martinez already works in her desired field. She’s an adult case manager and she hopes to continue in the social work field and become an advocate for those suffering from mental illness.

Current student Melissa Harper, C’22, is minoring in human services. She observed that “the best part [of the program] is the knowledge obtained and the support and encouragement received.” She recounted that she initially enrolled in her dream college, but after receiving little assistance from the professors and administrators there, she left and eventually found the Mount.

hs-m.harper-2-in-text.jpegHarper exclaimed that she is confident in the education she receives from her human services professors because “they lead by example. They…have experienced life good, bad, and the ugly it has to offer and yet still they have changed their lives for the better and became an asset instead of a liability to society.” Moved by the care they’ve shown, she aspires to one day open a treatment facility that serves the whole person in an individualized way instead of simply pushing them through a system.

In fact, all five of the featured human services students credit the professors—particularly Trammel at the Emmitsburg campus, and Timothy Wolfe, Ph.D., from the Frederick campus—with much of their success. Maisel and Martinez both mentioned Trammel’s class on death and dying as a highlight of their time at the Mount, and note that his passion for the subjects, combined with his caring nature, drew them to the human services field.

Students at the Frederick campus also brought up Wolfe several times, emphasizing the above-and-beyond support he provided. “Dr. Wolfe…always was kind, understanding, accepting, positive and encouraging,” recalled Thompson. “Dr. Wolfe will always be the one that I think about when I think about my time at Mount St. Mary's,”

It’s a mutual feeling, as Wolfe called the Frederick campus students “amazing. Many of them are already working in the helping professions. They wish to…advance their career prospects.” He noted that they often find a hidden passion in a job and desire to capture that passion and advance in their career, all while working, which the accelerated human services degree at the Frederick campus helps them to do.

hs-c.snurr-2-in-text.jpgOne such Frederick student is Kristi Snurr, who praised Wolfe for “genuinely caring about your wellbeing” and being flexible with students while still helping them fulfill their potential. Snurr, who will graduate in May, found a kindred spirit in her compassionate professors; she was drawn to the subject of human services because of the empathy she felt for the underdogs she encountered. After high school, Snurr began taking elementary education classes, and although she decided not to continue with those studies, she never forgot how drawn she was to the children with learning disorders, and the ones who struggled to sit still in class, an interest that followed her as she ran a daycare for the next 16 years.

This interest only grew when her third and youngest child was diagnosed with autism. Between her experience as a mother to an autistic child, and the loss of a young, mentally ill relative to drug overdose in 2016, Snurr realized the ways in which her life and her struggles had taught her how to be there for others, even when they were incredibly difficult to support.

She enrolled in the accelerated human services program at the Mount, and now the 44-year-old mother of three has applied to attend graduate school at Hood College. She hopes to earn her master’s degree in counseling and be there for people experiencing their biggest difficulties or traumas. “If I can help one person go through that [tough time], I will,” she stated. “Because of my life experiences, [they’ve] lead me to that.”

Indeed, all five women feel that by studying human services at the Mount, they took a passion they already had and honed it, growing professionally but also as people. The aim of the human services major is to educate students who, no matter what field they choose to enter, respect those who are too often denied respect from others. To that end, many of the classes focus on understanding others, trauma, and social justice. “Through my education from the human services department I will be prepared to treat my future clients with empathy and respect of their human dignity,” Maisel noted.

Martinez, Harper, and Thomspon echoed her thoughts, stating that the Human Services program gives students the necessary tools to show compassion and respect to those they encounter, even in their personal lives. “I’ve learned so much about myself,” recounted Harper. “I understand that hurt people hurt people which allows me to be…more understanding and less confrontational.” Thompson explained that while she gained invaluable professional knowledge during her time at the Mount, she first and foremost was taught how to be a kinder, more understanding person.

Snurr noted that her belief in her own abilities and the helpfulness of others has been one of the best takeaways from the human services program. Never having been particularly interested in classes, or considering herself a scholar, she had reservations about earning a degree, especially later in life than most. But she was encouraged by her professors, who saw her potential and worked hard to help her succeed. “I’ve learned to have faith in things…I actually felt like part of a family.”

A college experience is more than a collection of classes, more than a list of facts learned, more than a job earned after graduation. The human services program gives students skills, internships, and career opportunities, but beyond that, it gives them the chance to become valuable members of the society they join. Thanks to the passionate students and to the dedicated professors at both the Emmitsburg and Frederick campus, the Mount can do exactly what it sets out to—graduate ethical leaders who are inspired by a passion for learning and lead lives of significance in service of God and others.

To learn more about the human services major at the Mount, visit for the Emmitsburg campus and for the Frederick campus.

Katherine Stohlman