MSCJ grad uses degree to start mental health and substance abuse counseling program

Tassie Crews

Tassie Crews knows there is power in words. As a licensed master social worker and certified alcohol drug counselor, she's seen first-hand how a conversation with the right person can change someone's entire life. Crews has worked hard to earn the education and training to be that right person.

She earned a bachelor's of arts in social work and criminal justice, followed by a master's degree in social work. Still, she found she wanted to better round out her knowledge base. Crews is a mother of four and worked full time, so she needed a program that offered her maximum flexibility. That led her to enroll in the University of Wisconsin-Platteville's Master of Science in Criminal Justice online program.

"It was very nice to be able to go to school online around the crazy hours that I was working," Crews said. "Throughout the entire process of getting my degree, I was able to study on it after work, when I couldn't sleep, when I had free time. So that was one of the huge benefits of the program."

Crews worked as a correctional officer with the Iowa Department of Corrections while she studied at UW-Platteville. She says the program gave her tools and knowledge she could apply immediately to her role. Crews said she was also able to enact change at her prison.

"One of the huge benefits is that it really helped me through that job in helping explain the best practices and the things that were going on currently with the criminal justice system in the prison system," Crews said. "I spoke to them about the need for instantaneous crisis services, which have now been implemented." 

Her policy writing experience would only grow from there. After earning her degree from UW-Platteville in 2017, Crews was able to land a roughly $4 million SAMHSA grant. These funds have allowed her to build and develop the new Certified Behavioral Health Center at Hillcrest Family Services program from the ground up. The program at Hillcrest Family Services in Dubuque, IA, is designed with a focus on mental health and substance abuse.

"When we look at the criminal justice system, when people are released from jail or prison, there are certain factors that we have to take into account," Crews said. "We can't expect someone to be sent back into the exact same situation they were in before and not give them any tools to be really successful." 

Crews has helped turn the program into a hub to connect clients to resources. Many of their clients receive counseling at little or no cost. In addition, the program connects people with insurance information, provides clothing, and helps them apply for things like benefits.

"There is zero judgment when you walk in the door," Crews said. "Some people struggle with that, but I tell them it's not a handout – it's a hand up."

Crews said the program also offers crisis services meant to help reduce recidivism and ensure their clients do not fall through the cracks. In addition, they've partnered with local law enforcement and critical incident teams to try to minimize law enforcement intervention.

"One goal is to lower the rates of police contact and arrests. So now law enforcement can bring someone directly in," Crews said. "They've informed us that their amount of repeat law enforcement contact has actually dropped since they brought people here, which has been amazing."

Crews credits UW-Platteville's criminal justice program for playing a vital role in all the good she's able to do at Hillcrest Family Services. She said the support and instruction she received helped propel her to new heights in her professional career.

"The university was great, the feedback was always positive, and I've recommended the program to friends and colleagues. I can't say enough nice things about UW-Platteville," Crews added.

About UW-Platteville's Online Programs: 

UW-Platteville offers ten undergraduate degrees online, including Associate of Arts and SciencesAssociate of Science in Business AdministrationAssociate of Science in Hospitality and Tourism ManagementBachelor of Science in Applied Computing; and Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice; plus Bachelor's of Business Administration in FinanceHuman Resource ManagementIntegrated MarketingIntegrated Supply Chain Management and Management. The ten online master's degree programs are Applied BiotechnologyCriminal Justice, CybersecurityEngineeringHealthcare AdministrationIntegrated Supply Chain ManagementOrganizational Change Leadership, Project ManagementSport Administration and Strategic Management. The university also offers 16 graduate and undergraduate certificate programs.

Click here to apply and learn more about UW-Platteville's online programs.