Purdue addiction studies concentration awards its first graduate

Written by: Rebecca Hoffa, rhoffa@purdue.edu

Gabby Palazzolo

Gabriella “Gabby” Palazzolo, Purdue University Human Development and Family Studies senior graduating with a degree in human services with an addiction studies concentration.(Photo provided)

As Gabby Palazzolo sat in HDFS 10000 (Orientation To Current Issues In Human Development And Family Studies), her first class in the human services major she’d recently transferred into, the then Purdue University sophomore from Fort Wayne, Indiana, had no idea her education plans were about to change again.

After Palazzolo expressed interest in pursuing a career to help those with addictions, Clinical Associate Professor Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, who was teaching the class, brought Palazzolo’s attention to a developing addiction studies concentration that would be ready by fall 2020 — the first semester of her senior year.

The addiction studies concentration was developed in partnership between Purdue University’s Department of Human Development and Family Studies and Ivy Tech Community College’s human services programs to create a pathway for students who major in human services to become licensed addiction counselors after receiving a four-year degree — fulfilling a pressing need during the current opioid crisis.

Starting in summer 2019, Palazzolo began working behind the scenes toward earning the concentration before it was official with help from Dobbs-Oates, Human Development and Family Studies academic advisors and Ivy Tech administration. By fall 2020, when the concentration made its debut, Palazzolo had completed its seven courses and only had the internship requirement left to complete. Now, Palazzolo is graduating from Purdue and is looking for job opportunities as an addictions case manager in Indiana.

“It’s a big need,” Palazzolo said. “With Purdue backing an addiction studies concentration, that’s really impressive to employers.”

Jennifer Dobbs Oates

Jennifer Dobbs-Oates, a clinical associate professor of human development and family studies in Purdue University’s College of Health and Human Sciences.(Photo provided)

Even in its earliest stages, Dobbs-Oates noted that all who were involved in the process saw the value the concentration would add to Purdue’s human services degree in helping prepare students to get into the addictions field more rapidly.

 “Purdue is a state institution — we have a responsibility to contribute to the state, to people’s well-being and to the health of the state,” Dobbs-Oates said. “The opioid problem has been such a big problem for so long. It has to be attacked on so many different levels in so many different ways. I know there are ways that the University was already contributing; there are initiatives in the College of Pharmacy and different places on campus. But we had not yet really been contributing on the workforce problem.”

While there were many challenges to overcome in developing the program, from how students would enroll to finding a way make the online Ivy Tech courses covered by financial aid, Dobbs-Oates and her team were motivated to make a plan work. Palazzolo quickly became an example for how things would operate, as Dobbs-Oates kept her informed of the process along the way.

“It’s a really innovative program,” Dobbs-Oates said. “I’ve not seen a model like it anywhere, and it certainly hasn’t existed at Purdue, where we would have a collaboration across two different institutions in this way.”

One of the best parts of the program, Palazzolo noted, was the opportunity to practice the skills she had learned in a real-world setting alongside others in the field, which her in-depth internship at Home With Hope, a substance-abuse recovery facility in Lafayette, provided.

In her internship, Palazzolo worked 40 hours per week during the spring semester under a licensed addictions counselor, where she sat in on individual and group sessions. She was even able to lead her own group session about “re-parenting,” or meeting emotional, physical and spiritual needs that weren’t met as a child and throughout life.

“There are components that won’t be covered in the classroom that are more community-based, like local food and clothing resources, the corrections system, and recovery meetings that take place every day, and a lot of it will come from your real-world experiences,” Palazzolo said.

During her internship, senior Gabby Palazzolo volunteers alongside her Home With Hope coworkers and clients as they completed a “Clean Sweep” service activity to give back to the community.(Photo provided)

Palazzolo’s favorite class within the program was HUMS 210 (Issues of Substance Abuse in Family Systems), which investigates the family component of addiction.

“That connected a lot to my internship because everybody has a family,” Palazzolo said. “A lot of codependency and substance use starts in childhood and grows up, so it’s kind of born out of already dysfunctional families. I was always, always interested in the family side of things, so I loved that part.”

Before beginning her internship, Palazzolo said she was nervous about being able to connect with those struggling with substance abuse because she had never personally experienced addiction, but once she got into the setting, she realized she had plenty of ways to help her clients.

“It’s just about being there for the clients,” Palazzolo said. “You can still have connections with them, whether you’ve lived the same life as them or not. There’s always, I think, a connection to be made.”

For Palazzolo, her internship experience also made her aware of the stigma surrounding substance abuse, and she said the new concentration helps break down some of the stigma surrounding these individuals.

“Purdue bringing this on, that’s so awesome because it means that people are really understanding that people in recovery aren’t bad — they might have done bad things — but the recovered part is, ‘Well, I did bad things, but I’m not a bad person, and how do I live my life now? I don’t have to live in the regret and guilt and shame; I can move on,’” Palazzolo said.

Palazzolo said she thinks the program will have a strong influence on the opioid problem raging in Indiana by making the program more accessible to students majoring in human services.

“For students who are freshmen and coming in, now this will be there as an option,” Palazzolo said. “I think it will be a big thing.”

Dobbs-Oates noted that Palazzolo is an excellent ambassador for the program and that her enthusiasm in pursuing the concentration really shines through. “It’s been really exciting to watch her kind of blaze the trail,” Dobbs-Oates said.