kelly ward bsw program directorLaunching this fall, the new Bachelor of Social Work program will prepare students for careers in a wide-open field.

By Ann Swardlick

When you first enter the house, you might miss the open pill bottle on the bureau, the burning cigarette left by the bed, and the cleaning products on the floor. The more you navigate this environment, however, the quicker you begin to spot the hazards––which is exactly the point.

This is a “virtual house”––an online teaching tool for aspiring social workers that was created by Dr. Kelly Ward, director of Saint Joseph’s new social work program. “It’s designed to help students hone their skills of observation,” says Ward. “These are critical skills for the practicing clinical social worker.”

The new Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree program has been in the works at Saint Joseph’s for many years, according to Deacon John McAuliffe, assistant professor of sociology and director of field placements. He and Sr. Michele Aronica, chair of the sociology department, have been prime movers of the program. “It’s a natural fit,” says McAuliffe, who feels the College’s strong emphasis on student support and mentoring make it a great choice for social work majors.

A Strong Draw for Prospective Students

Dr. Patricia Ireland, dean of undergraduate studies, agrees that the program aligns perfectly with Saint Joseph’s mission. “Our students gravitate toward the helping professions,” she says. “The BSW gives them a path to a job in their field right after graduation.”

Saint Joseph’s is currently working through an extensive, three-year accreditation process with the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). Once this process is complete,” explains Ireland, “our graduates will be able to be licensed as clinical social workers, qualified to hold entry-level positions in a wide range of organizations and service areas.”

Ward, who has been focused on the accreditation process since joining the faculty in January, points to another advantage of the BSW degree. “Many students choose to pursue their master’s. With a BSW, they gain advanced standing, which shortens their path to the MSW by a full year. This is a big savings of time and tuition dollars.”

Ireland expects the BSW to become a strong draw for prospective students, once the word is out. “Many smaller schools don’t offer the BSW,” she says. “This gives Saint Joseph’s a recruitment advantage.”

“The world is your oyster.”

Both Ward and Ireland emphasize the wide range of opportunities open to social work majors. According to Ireland, “Social workers are needed by schools, hospitals, substance abuse clinics, hospice care providers, counseling centers, child welfare agencies, juvenile detention centers, immigration service providers, and so many other organizations.”

“Our students will acquire highly transferrable skills,” says Ward, who describes the program as very hands-on, with a heavy emphasis on experiential learning.

Students will gain practical experience through two internships, including a full-year placement. The College already has deep relationships with agencies and organizations in the region, including Mercy Hospital, Catholic Charities, People’s Regional Opportunity Program (PROP), Long Creek Youth Development Center, Spring Harbor Hospital, and many school systems. “We will have no problem securing placements that will give our social work students wide exposure to the field,” says Ireland.

The social work major and minor will be available to on-campus students this year; beginning in fall 2017, the program will be offered online.

“We’re very excited about the program,” says Ireland. “The BSW is one of the most versatile degrees. In social work, the world is your oyster.”

Q & A with Dr. Kelly Ward, PhD, LCSW, LCADC

Kelly Ward’s office is dominated by a large whiteboard, filled with a multicolored, three-year schedule outlining the BSW accreditation process. As director of the new social work program, she’s been eating and sleeping this process for months. Here is her take:

What sets our new BSW program apart?
Many CSWE-accredited BSW programs have just two practice classes: one focused on working with individuals and another on groups. Ours will have a third: working with communities.

Why is the community focus so important?
Social workers play a key role in helping communities deal with, and heal from, traumas of all kinds. Social workers are called on to help with restoring the peace, training police officers, community organizing, working with families in mourning, or helping traumatized children. These are critical skills for our students to learn.

Your book, Breaking Out of the Box: Adventure-Based Field Instruction, is one of the program texts. What is “adventure-based field instruction”?
If you’ve ever participated in a team-building exercise like the Great Egg Drop or the Blind Trust Walk, you’ll appreciate the benefits of active, inclusive methods. I ask students to evaluate these exercises with their social worker hats on: how can we develop trust with our clients? How can we support clients throughout the process? This helps students understand what it means to act in the best interest of their clients.

What inspired the “virtual house”?
I first got the idea from Second Life, a virtual world where people have developed hospitals, clinics, schools, and other simulated environments for teaching and research. I decided to create my own simpler and less costly approach to a virtual environment that will help students think and observe like social workers.

How do you make it real for your students?
They’ll have two required field placements in their areas of interest. Plus, I always use case examples in the classroom. As a practicing substance abuse counselor for 30 years, I have a lot of personal experience to draw from.