Haley Hines-Gaal

Outstanding Online Student - Haley Hines-Gaal

Haley main image

Lorie Briggs |  June 22, 2023 |  USF Innovative Education

For Haley Hines-Gaal, choosing to pursue an online master’s degree in social work was a matter of the heart. 

She grew up with a keen awareness of the importance of social workers as, after the death of her parents, she became part of Iowa’s foster care system. She was a young teen at the time and says that social workers helped her navigate that challenging period. They introduced her to opportunities and encouraged her to dream about college. 

“They [helped] fill that parental void and would meet with me every week,” she said, describing how interventions and prevention programs helped her avoid getting into trouble.

“You know teenagers, they can be persuaded easily and I'm no exception. Amazing social workers lifted me out of that dark rut,” she said, describing how they impacted her life and the community. “And they made it personal. I didn't feel like a number. I didn't feel like a case number.”

“They made me feel human and they empowered me. They empowered me to move forward, even though I couldn't control what happened in my past.” The lesson she said, was that she could create her own future.

Hines-Gaal was able to attend college thanks to the Guardian Scholars Foundation, a non-profit that provides scholarships for youth in Iowa’s foster care system. She earned two degrees from Morningside University in Sioux City, Iowa, one in counseling psychology and the other in behavioral sciences. There, she participated in a leadership program, led service opportunities, and served as a peer mentor. She also served as an intern for the Sioux City Human Rights Commission, worked as a youth specialist for the Boys & Girls Clubs, and interned with programs serving youth encountering the juvenile court system.


Having an online option to continue her education was critical for Hines-Gaal, who says that the best way to advance in the field is to earn a master’s degree, and eventually licensure, in social work. This requires clinical internships, graduate coursework, and field placement experiences.

It can be challenging to do all of that while also supporting oneself by working full-time. Hines-Gaal needed the flexibility of an online program yet she also wanted the rigor of an accredited program. She also needed a program that was affordable and was from a respected university. So, she carefully evaluated programs before making the commitment to the USF online option.

As with USF’s face-to-face MSW program, students in the online program explore topics such as working with diverse groups, assessing and guiding clients dealing with trauma, professional ethics and examining social systems. And, like those in the on-campus program, they participate in field placements and internships. Sometimes those are virtual. Sometimes they are in-person experiences that could take place anywhere in the nation.

Hines-Gaal was placed as a clinical intern in Tampa’s Metropolitan Ministries, where she helped homeless clients in the Rapid Re-Housing program obtain stable housing and provided wrap-around case management services. She continues to serve as a clinical counseling intern there but that role led to her full-time job with the City of Tampa, where she serves as a housing counselor with the city’s Housing and Community Development division. She provides housing counseling services for income eligible residents looking to purchase their first home.

“The uniqueness of the program is that even though it is all online, I was able to connect to my peers and get connected to my community,” she said. She also praised the faculty in the program, calling them among the best in the nation.

The pace of the online program was also something that mattered to the 25-year-old. “I didn’t want to be in graduate school for more than three years,” she said. “I needed a program that would allow me to work at my pace.”  

Hines-Gaal will graduate from the online program in August and hopes to share the news with the social workers who impacted her life.

“I look back with gratitude for the people who made decisions about me as a child and helped me. I could see that a career in social work could allow me to make a similar impact on people’s lives and be able to drive positive change. I can't wait to tell them when I graduate. I'm going to tell them that it was because you helped me get here.”