Exploring Careers in Family Sciences

April 21, 2022

A child life specialist sits with a 10-year-old and her family in the hospital. While a younger sibling is undergoing heart surgery, the specialist waits with the family, offering support, comfort and resources to help navigate life after the surgery.

Across town, a family support specialist evaluates special education needs for another family. When she finishes the assessment, she'll recommend local programs that could benefit their children and improve educational outcomes for them.

In a neighboring nursing home, still another support specialist advocates for the elderly and their families to ensure that the best possible care and support resources are being offered.

Although these specialists are working in very different roles, they all have one thing in common: an educational background in human development and family sciences.

The University of Arkansas onlineBachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences is designed to develop human services career professionals like these who enjoy working with people — often, when they are most in need.


What Is Family Sciences?

"Family sciences refers to the skills to work with individuals, families and children in all types of sectors and organizations," says Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley, a University of Arkansas professor of human development and family sciences in the School of Human Environmental Sciences in the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences.

"Our family sciences degree helps students understand people and how people are within different systems like families and communities and so on," she adds. "We learn about individuals and families through all stages of human development from infancy to older adulthood."


What Do Professionals in Human Development and Family Sciences Do?

Professionals in human development and family sciences fill a broad range of roles. It's a career field with both options and impact.

"We're like the human resources of working with people because we have so many different areas of interests, types of employment opportunities and career options," Mosley explains. "When we talk to our students about the possibilities, we organize them by what age group someone's interested in working with. A lot of our students want to work with children, for example, so they might work in a preschool or child care. They might go into education and teaching."

The impact of the human services field extends beyond working with individuals and that broadens career opportunities even more.

"There's also community service – working with nonprofits or with adolescents at risk – and social services," adds Mosley. "In family services, that's similar to social work where you can do case management and counseling."

Other opportunities for human services professionals are found in the medical field. This may seem like an unexpected option for someone with a degree in human development and family sciences, but medical facilities often rely on their skills as members of the broader health care team.

"Not so much to be a nurse or doctor," explains Mosley, "but to be a child life specialist and work with children in hospitals – both the healthy and those who are ill. Some of the kids may have physical disabilities due to accidents or have other health issues and have a great need for services and support."

If you are exploring human services careers, it's important to be aware of the wide range of options open to professionals in the field.

Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley
Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley, University of Arkansas professor
"We're such a diverse field. With career options based around the age group someone’s interested in working with – whether children, youth or older adults – students may end up serving in education, nonprofits, government, elder communities and more. To interact with a lot of different age groups, working in government with an extension program, for instance, is an option. It takes you all over a state in communities where you’ll work with a variety of age groups. The career options are very broad."

What Skills and Knowledge in Family Sciences Do Students Gain in the Program?

Working in human services careers involves interaction with people of diverse backgrounds in unique and sometimes challenging settings – and that takes special skills, in-depth knowledge and sensitivity to the variety of human experiences.

"No. 1 for us is cultural competency," says Mosley. "We have multiple courses that focus on multicultural families, diverse families, individuals and children. For example, students take classes like Introduction to Cultural Competency and Multicultural Families.

"And I would say we're one of the few majors that really focuses on diversity, equity and inclusion," she adds. "Applying those principles is a necessary skill. We also work to increase leadership, interpersonal skills and the ability of our students to work with people who are both like them and different from them."

In the classroom, students can learn about theories in human development and the science behind those, but they translate that knowledge into practical skills working in the field when they complete internships and service-learning projects.

"We don't just talk to students about working well among diverse populations," Mosley says. "We get them out into the community with a lot of service-learning courses where they apply what they're learning in the classroom to their work in agencies that serve the local Northwest Arkansas area."


What Characteristics Do You Need to Be Successful in a Human Services Career?

Empathy and kindness are two of the most important characteristics students need to be successful in the field of human services.

"Coming out of our degree, our students are some of the most empathetic and open-minded," says Mosley. "I think they select the family sciences major because they're passionate about working with children and families. The coursework helps develop that passion even further because the classes focus on working with diverse populations and communities.

"Then it's very applied when students get out and get to work in their community and learn about diversity firsthand," she adds. "In working with various students, I've seen that they're very empathetic. One of my former students told me that kindness is not a skill you'd think is important, but it's a key characteristic for anyone who wants to work in the human services field. Our students learn how to be very kind and what that really means."


Family Science: Preparing for Opportunities and Challenges

Some of the biggest challenges students face both personally and professionally may be within themselves.

"Diversity can be a very difficult topic for a lot of people," says Mosley. "Not everyone has had exposure to cultural competency, and it can be a little overwhelming, but we instill the principles in all our courses. We have specific courses addressing cultural competency, of course, but we also incorporate it into the entire curriculum, so we're teaching our students that diversity is great."

As students move through their coursework, they become more aware of their own responses to diversity and more knowledgeable about the differences that unique individuals and communities bring to the table. It's also important that they know what to expect when they leave the classroom and go out into those communities.

"They're going to work with diverse populations, so we ask ourselves ‘What is it they need to know?'" says Mosley. "We help students learn about who they are and what their role is, and we help them learn about different communities they've never had exposure to. Then we provide experiences through service learning where they get to interact so that they can become more culturally competent."


Why Choose U of A To Study Human Development and Family Sciences?

"It doesn't matter where we are in the world. We all need to understand individuals, families and communities who may be both like us and very different from us," says Mosley. "And that's what our curriculum does. It helps students gain skills in understanding themselves, understanding families, understanding communities and then gives them applied skills to go out into those communities and become changemakers. That's my big goal for everyone."

The skillset gained in the program creates opportunities for serving in many ways.

"Not everyone will become a changemaker, of course, but everybody can apply the skills they've learned in the classroom back into whatever field they want," adds Mosley. "Family sciences is a very diverse field because we focus on diversity, but when you get a degree from us, you can do so many different things with that degree. You can work with children, at-risk youth or older adults who are in nursing homes. The entire developmental age spectrum is at your disposal."

A depth and variety of faculty expertise is also at every student's disposal, whatever their area of career interest.

"We have a diverse faculty – both tenured and non-tenured – who study all the different areas we've talked about, and they're great teachers," Mosley explains. "They've won teaching awards. They research and publish; they write grants. They've got expertise in different family systems and age groups. Some study children. I study youth, adolescents and young adults; some study older adults. Our diverse faculty are experts in family sciences."


A High-Quality Online Bachelor's Degree With Flexibility at Its Core

The fully online bachelor's degree in family sciences is not a hybrid program with a mixture of in-person and online classes; it is offered fully online. It's also not a "second-best" alternative to on-campus study.

"All of our courses are taught or were developed by faculty who are also teaching the in-person sections," says Mosley. "Faculty in the human development and family sciences major at the University of Arkansas developed these courses to be the exact same courses as our in-person classes, except they're online. The students complete the same assignments. Both in-person and online students have service learning."

Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley

The big differentiator is that the online program is organized with built-in flexibility and an understanding of what online learners need to succeed.

"Most everything is due on Sundays at midnight," says Mosley. "Students can do coursework during the week or on the weekend, whatever's convenient for them."

The online program provides clear instructions each week so students can easily follow curriculum requirements and keep track of their assignments.

"We have it very structured so every week, a folder opens with the assignments and learning objectives for the week," Mosley adds. "They'll see, ‘Here are three things you need to do to be successful this week.' The structure keeps students on a schedule. No student is ever confused about something. We communicate at the beginning of the semester when everything is due. And then every folder opens up every week where they know what's coming, and it's organized really well. Global Campus has helped us get it that way."


What Are the Benefits of Choosing Online for a Bachelor's Degree?

Time is perhaps the greatest benefit of an online program, particularly for students who are balancing work, family and other responsibilities. Completing a bachelor's degree online is a convenient way to get an education no matter what else students may have going on in their lives.

"We give students so much flexibility because we have full-time working individuals. I have full-time working moms in class – in fact, most of the adults in my classes are working full time. – and they can only do their homework on the weekends," says Mosley. "The flexibility allows them to do their homework when and where they can."

Faculty, who may be full-time working parents themselves, have also benefited from the flexibility of online programs that allow them to review student assignments on a more flexible schedule.

"I find myself grading students' work as it comes in throughout the week versus being overwhelmed with all 50 assignments on Sundays," Mosley explains.

Online flexibility also levels the playing field for students who may not otherwise be able to access the educational options they need or who may feel more comfortable outside a traditional classroom setting.

"What I've learned about being online is how inclusive it is," says Mosley. "Anyone can participate in online education. When students attend in person, they have to think about other obligations like paying rent in the Fayetteville community. They have to go in person to class at specific times, and that works well for some. But for a lot of personalities, especially introverts like myself, being online offers a valuable alternative."

Just as importantly, online students don't have to choose between flexibility and getting a top-tier degree.

"Students can attend school from their own home and still get the same high-quality degree they would if they were attending in person," Mosley says. "Online degree opportunities remove a lot of barriers to education."

With a program offered 100% online, geography presents no roadblocks to getting a degree and the opportunities that come with it.

If you're interested in learning about how to prepare for careers in the human services field with a more flexible online format, visit the Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences program pageon our website.

"I have online students from all over the United States, all over Arkansas," says Mosley. "It has opened a lot of doors for people who otherwise wouldn't have been able to attend the program. What's great is a lot of students have said, 'I never thought I would have this opportunity to get a college degree.' That's why online degrees are so important."

Jacquelyn Wiersma-Mosley

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Bachelor of Science in Human Development and Family Sciences

Do you like working with people? This bachelor’s degree program will prepare you for human services careers that assist individuals and families of all ages, from infants to seniors. You will gain knowledge and skills that you can use to help others cope with crises or help them plan better lives.

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