Dalton State Social Work Students Are Making a Difference in Their Communities
September 16, 2013
The field of social work is exciting, rewarding, and challenging, so it’s no wonder that its projected job growth is faster than average over the next decade. And Dalton State social work students graduate well prepared to serve, contribute, and make a difference in their communities.
“Nearly 100 percent of our graduates are immediately employed in social work or accepted into Master of Social Work programs (or both) by the summer after graduation,” points out Dr. Jane Wimmer, Assistant Professor of Social Work.
Students are drawn to social work because they want to help other people improve their lives. The possibilities are myriad, with such prevalent societal and cultural issues as homelessness, substance abuse, financial struggles, relationship difficulties, health challenges, and other stressors in our fast-paced, ever-changing world. In fact, student interest in social work is increasing. Over the seven years Dr. Wimmer has been at Dalton State, she’s seen the social work program grow at an impressive rate. This past May, 20 people graduated with a Bachelor of Social Work degree; in 2014, 27 seniors will receive that particular degree.
“Social work is a varied career,” says Dr. Wimmer. “You can work with individuals such as older adults who need nursing home care, families such as couples seeking marriage counseling, groups such as AIDS patients advocating for services, and communities such as those designing government-funded programs for homeless children.”
Moreover, social workers are everywhere: direct services, administration, private individual practices, non-profit and for-profit agencies, and small and large government organizations. “The profession is recognized all over the world.”
Field work gives Bachelor of Social Work seniors many opportunities to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to the outside world. In field work, theories and concepts meet real-life application. Dr. Wimmer says, “I particularly enjoy working with seniors. It’s exciting to see them make the transition from students to professionals.”
This transition typically takes place as students complete their individual Senior Capstone Research Project, the crux of the BSW program. Students participate in a practicum class and a Capstone Research class, as well as an eight-month practicum with a local social service agency. Dalton State offers internships with 24 different agencies in the northwest Georgia area, including hospitals, schools, hospices, and county offices of the Department of Family and Children Services.
The senior project is a perfect steppingstone between college and professional work, as both professors and on-staff agency social workers supervise and counsel the students. Social work interns actively participate in their agencies’ activities by identifying and defining research needs and then answering that need. In this way, projects not only deepen students’ education, they also serve the greater good in a real way.
Recent graduates Ivette Flores and Todd Causby chose agencies that serve groups for which they feel a special affinity. Ivette interned at Hamilton Hospice and Todd at Bartow County DFCS.
Ivette has long felt drawn to working with older adults. Before she returned to college to pursue a BSW, she worked in hospitals where older adults and ICU patients were the majority of her patients. Ivette grew to appreciate the “uniqueness and profound history” of this population. She plans to work in the medical field, either in a hospital, nursing home, or assisted living setting. “I’d also love to pursue geriatric research on how our minds/behavior/emotions change as we age.”
As the nation’s senior population continues to grow, the need for well-trained hospice volunteers will grow as well. For Ivette’s senior project, the hospice staff asked her to complete a study to help them recruit, prepare, and train volunteers. “Right now, hospice volunteers number more than 400,000 across the country, and those numbers are expected to grow,” she points out. So recruiting and training those volunteers is critical.
Ivette first selected Dalton State primarily for financial reasons. Looking back, she says “I am so very glad I came to Dalton State” for other reasons entirely. “The professors here are very supportive, always ready and willing to talk with you.” Moreover, Ivette enjoyed participating in the Capstone Research Project with her peers. The “support and interdependency” she shared with them helped her meet the challenges of her project.
As she prepared to leave Dalton State, Ivette felt a depth of gratitude to her “family, friends, classmates and professors for encouraging me throughout all of the challenges I encountered during my educational journey. I would not have remained focused and determined without each one of them.”
Todd’s interests lie with families, children, and at-risk youth, with the end goal of keeping families together and children safe at home. The Bartow County DFACS was a good fit for him. “A lot of people don’t fully understand the ultimate goal of DFACS: to support families and try to keep them together,” Todd says. With his love of interacting with people, Todd knew he wanted to pursue a career in this kind of work.
In his project, Todd found that decompression techniques are essential for maintaining healthy stress levels for caseworkers. He also discovered that the work setting culture is just as critical. A flexible workplace, laidback environment, peer cohesiveness, and open-door management policy function together to create and maintain a supportive work atmosphere.
Todd’s findings will help caseworkers and managers create workplaces that provide encouragement and support. Lower stress levels and a collaborative atmosphere reduces the chances for caseworker burnout while maximizing effectiveness for the communities they serve.
Todd started college years ago as a student at Dalton State but left without completing a degree. Later the Calhoun native decided to go back to school. He met with Dr. David Boyle, former Dalton State professor and now Dean Emeritus of the Department of Social Work, to discuss his options. “That sealed the deal with me.”
Todd also cites Dalton State’s smaller campus and class sizes as other benefits. Smaller classes encourage close peer and professor communication. Todd found his senior Capstone classes to be energizing. “It was great bouncing ideas off people.” He adds, “There’s no way I could have done this without the support and guidance of Dr. Wimmer and my colleagues.”
“Social work is such a broad field,” continues Todd. “You can do so many different things.”
At Dalton State, social work students are reaching out to others in their communities to help change lives for the better.
Postscript: Both Todd and Ivette are currently in graduate school pursuing the Master of Social Work degree. Todd is at Valdosta State University and Ivette is at the University of Alabama.