Social work alumna helps students and youth, loves every second of it

Since graduating from Colorado State University’s School of Social Work, Tricia Van Horssen (MSW ‘99) has loved every second of her career.  Van Horssen considers her students family, and has helped countless students and youth over her 20+ year career, where she now works as a school social worker. She credits CSU’s School of Social Work and its faculty with helping prepare her for a long-lasting and rewarding career.  

Tricia and her dog.
Tricia with her dog.

Tell us a little about yourself! 

I grew up on a farm in South Dakota, in a very small community. I am the middle of three girls, and graduated high school with a class of 12! My mom was a teacher, and both my sisters are in the social worker and counseling field. I do not have children, except for the 2,000 I work with at Rocky Mountain High School. I am an animal lover, and my dog, Bella, was the therapy dog at Rocky Mountain High School for about seven years. I recently adopted another dog named Jake about six months ago, and he is wonderful. I love the outdoors, being active, spending time with family/friends, and I am also on the Board of Directors for the FoCo Café, where customers pay what they are able to for a hot meal.

What was the journey that led you to get an MSW at CSU? 

I received my BSW in Iowa, and after a few years of working in Iowa at a youth residential treatment center, I really wanted a change and to move. I have family in Fort Collins, which also influenced my decision to go to CSU. I love Fort Collins and have never left after receiving my MSW in 1999. I have been working with adolescents in Larimer County for the last 24 years. I currently am in my 15th year as a social worker at Rocky Mountain High School. Go Lobos! 

Describe your current role and the responsibilities that come with it. 

My current role is at Rocky Mountain High School. I am a social worker that helps support students who struggle with emotional and behavioral disabilities- supporting mental health and wellness, one-on-one and group support, crisis intervention, teaching social/emotional skills, life skills, and connecting students and families with community resources. I work with amazing teachers and staff, and the students are great! I love what I do every day! 

How did the MSW program prepare you for your current role? 

The MSW program was great – even in 1999. I really loved learning about systems theory, gained so much insight on policy, and met some amazing people in my program that are also social workers in our community. I loved my internship at a mental health hospital and learned so much about mental illness, treatment, and interventions there.    

What’s your favorite part of your job? 

My favorite part is my first hour period with all my students and the teacher and paraprofessionals I work with. We are a little family, and start the day together, and end the day together. I just really love being with the students and colleagues. Lots of laughter, fun, and learning. 

Did you have any standout experiences or mentors in the program? 

I have amazing memories of all the professors I had from 1997-1999. They were so helpful, and I looked up to them all. One of my favorites was Dr. Maria Puig. She taught policy, and told us that as social workers, if we are not “ticking people off,” then we are not doing our job. Change is hard, and challenging systems is hard, but it is our job to do the hard stuff to make positive changes on the micro, mezzo, and macro levels. I also have worked with amazing BSW and MSW students from CSU over the 15 years I’ve been in the school district. I love teaching, mentoring, and supporting students who are working on their social work degrees. I also have been speaking with people in the social work program at CSU about being a school social worker. 

What would your advice be to aspiring social workers? 

My advice to aspiring social workers is to find mentors and colleagues that you can depend on to process your work with, get advice from, staff cases with, and most importantly, laugh with. My colleagues are some of my dearest friends. Practice self-care and develop healthy boundaries. Be present, mindful, listen to understand, and make every interaction you have with others a positive one. Social Workers are not here to solve problems, they are here to walk alongside our clients and students to support them in making positive changes. Fight for change in systems, be a squeaky wheel, and challenge things that are not best for the welfare or wellbeing of others. Learn, grow, take professional development classes, we can always be better and learn. 

And anything else you’d like to share? 

I have been a social worker for about 25 years and still love it. 

The School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.