Social Work Program Addresses Need for Experiential Learning

Posted: November 1, 2010 at 1:03 am, Last Updated: October 29, 2010 at 2:30 pm

By Dave Andrews

Baby boomers are aging, and life expectancies are increasing, putting pressure on medical facilities and social service agencies to boost both capacity and efficiency. The American work force is asking for more social workers with effective communication skills, and Mason is answering the call.

Mason was selected as one of 10 universities nationwide to receive Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Experiential Learning Program funding from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) Gero-Ed Center (National Center for Gerontological Social Work Education).

Made possible by the John A. Hartford Foundation, an advocate of health care training, research and service system innovations, the nearly $40,000 grant will be used to increase student interaction with older adults.

One of the problems we saw was that students could complete the program and graduate without ever speaking to an older adult, says Miriam Raskin, professor of social work. “With the [rate at which] Americans are aging and how the job market is evolving, that is very problematic.”

The CSWE estimates that by 2020, one in six Americans will be age 65 or older. The council recognizes the growing demand for social workers with gerontological competencies, but also notes that a growing number of graduates are not formally prepared to personally interact with older adults.

“The changes we made to the program [as a result of this funding] ensure that every student will graduate from our program with the knowledge, values and skills obtained by working directly with older adults,” Raskin says. “At some point in their career, social workers will be working with older adults to some degree and they must be able to relate.”

The funding will be used to address specific needs in three courses currently offered in the BSW program.

In the Introduction to Social Work course, students will see at least one social worker guest speaker who will talk about ethical issues when working with older adults and specific skills needed to communicate effectively.

In their second year, students will conduct an extensive interview with an older adult from the community. The interview is intended to enhance the students’ interpersonal skills by getting to know the interviewee’s life story.

“Adults these days are much more active than they were in the past,” Raskin says. “They’re out there traveling the world, so it’s good for the students to see the great variety of where they are, what their work experience has been, what their values are, how life was different when they were growing up.”

Changes in the third course will again give students interview opportunities, only this time the interviews will be videotaped and later reviewed to develop the students’ qualitative research techniques.

According to Raskin, Mason’s application for the funding stood out among the many other proposals because of how it incorporated multiple components: guest speakers, interviewing techniques and research methods.

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