Alyssa Hetschel ’13 Serves Others Through Social Work

by Jacqueline Guerrero

Alyssa Hetschel ’13 discovered her passion for social work during her time at Azusa Pacific University which has allowed her to serve through her management and leadership skills. “Service is the name of the game for social work. I’m constantly serving my clients and community,” Hetschel said. “It’s embedded in me. Service is what appealed to me about APU.” She believes that social work is “very human work” that requires a passion for service and constant discipleship through mentorship.

Hetschel followed in her older sister’s footsteps by attending APU. “While it was not my first choice, it fits into the grand story of how I found my passion for social work,” Hetschel said. “I wouldn’t have found my calling if not for APU.” In addition to hearing about her sister’s time here, Hetschel chose APU after a great experience at an overnight event on campus. She recalled that the students she met during the event all seemed fun, exciting, and that they genuinely loved APU. Having grown up about an hour away, “APU still felt close to home but far enough away for me to have independence,” Hetschel said. The small class sizes were also very appealing, an aspect that made a big difference in her college experience.

Hetschel grew up in a Christian family that was heavily involved in Campus Crusade for Christ, now known as CRU, an organization focused on building Christian communities on college campuses. Her family’s emphasis on helping others translated into their jobs. “My sister is a nurse; my mom is a therapist; my dad is a chaplain; and my brother roasts coffee which helps others stay energized,” she said. “I saw my parents providing for and helping others, and it felt like second nature to me.” Hetschel entered APU as a psychology major, but decided to attend an information session on various majors in Fall 2009. Mary Rawlings, PhD, LCSW, a current professor in the Master of Social Work program, was the lecturer at the information session. “Everything she said appealed to me about how social work is an integration of psychology, sociology, and social justice,” Hetschel said. Her existing passion for all of those fields combined with the dedication that Rawlings exuded in her stories led Hetschel to switch majors.

APU’s social work program appeals to students like Hetschel because of its advanced standing. The program’s accreditation allows students to continue their education by completing just one year of graduate school rather than two to earn their master’s degree. The one year graduate school option is only featured at APU and a small number of other institutions with accredited Bachelor of Social Work programs.

Hetschel’s experience in the social work program was heavily influenced by the close knit support system that the smaller program provided. “I cannot talk enough about how amazing my professors were,” she said. “All of the professors were incredibly knowledgeable and actively practiced social work. Learning from their experiences provided me with support.” She recalled that all of her professors were always available and encouraging which created a close community.

“My professors and cohort gave me a great experiential education which prepared me for the best possible entry into the field,” she said.

Hetschel still keeps in touch with her core group of friends from APU. Due to the small class sizes in the program, Hetschel and her peers were almost always in the same courses which led to the development of a great bond between them. Other forms of support came from Diana Glyer, PhD, whom Hetschel was a teacher’s assistant and nanny for. Glyer provided her with emotional and educational support. Similarly, Hetschel said that Barbara Johnson, MSW, LCSW, gave her some of the best advice when it came to navigating graduate school and the social work field. Hetschel’s Alpha Group and time studying abroad in Lithuania were integral experiences during her time at APU.

After graduating from APU, Hetschel matriculated to the University of Denver where she received her Masters in Social Work. She stayed in Colorado where she obtained her LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker) and LAC (Licensed Addictions Counselor) clinical license and became a licensed addictions counselor. Hetschel has served her community in the clinical social work realm since finishing graduate school in 2014. She’s been a therapist in a county jail, worked with case management to help inmates enter back into society, became a manager at a halfway house in a residential treatment program, served as an adjunct professor at the University of Denver since 2018, and was most recently an executive director of a behavioral health non-profit organization in the criminal justice system until 2023. Hetschel has found herself in a number of leadership roles. “That’s where my passion is,” she said. “Leadership positions allow me to challenge systems and have a role in shaping policies.”

In June 2023, Hetschel needed a change. She applied for a behavioral health director position at the University of Colorado. Hetschel now works for Sheridan Health Services, a federally qualified health center, which allows her and her team of licensed therapists to help in health disparity areas where predominantly Spanish speaking individuals that either can’t afford or can’t receive healthcare because of their citizenship status can get the medical, denatal, behavioral health, and pharmacy services they need. She also runs a behavioral health service and has clients that she conducts individual therapy sessions with. Hetschel enjoys having a small caseload of individual therapy patients that allows her to stay connected to the patient population at a micro level.

While Hetschel loves her job, she noted that it is very personal and taxing. “Working with people who face so many inequities is challenging,” she said. In order to prevent burnout, Hetschel learned to take care of herself by setting boundaries and taking time off when necessary. “It’s taken me my entire career to learn,” Hetschel said. “Being exposed to a lot of trauma can get exhausting, and there’s a heavy workload. You’re just one person. You can’t do it all.” Although there are challenges in her career, Hetschel uses these as motivation. In the future, she hopes to become a CEO of an established nonprofit or create her own. She would also like to have a private practice exclusively for therapy while continuing to teach.

Hetschel shared wisdom with current APU students. “As cliché as it sounds, listen to your professors; they are excellent at their jobs and they care so much,” she said. “Trust in them, but also develop your own critical thinking skills to take what they’re teaching you and apply it to your own goals and values.”

Hetschel shared advice specifically for social work majors. “Hang in there. It can be challenging, but it is so worth it, and you’re getting an amazing education at APU,” she said. “Develop community and make sure to have people in your life who are not social workers because it’s valuable to put work aside and disconnect for a bit with a hobby or a church.”

Hetschel is focused on growing in her professional and personal life. “I’m not perfect and I’m still figuring it out. There’s still a lot that I don’t know, and that's encouraging. If you’re open to it, life will evolve and that’s okay. I used to be scared of that, but now I embrace it.” Hetschel continues to be a voice in the social work field in both her career and in the classroom, helping others and carrying on APU’s legacy of service.

Jacqueline Guerrero is a public relations intern. Jacqueline is a frehman double majoring in honors humanities and English with a minor in prelaw.