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Social Work program offers 'real-world' lab

August 29, 2008

“The Field Internship experience provides you an opportunity to put into practice the lessons learned in the classroom. Most students report that their greatest learning experiences occurred during their internship.”
College of Human Services, Social Work Web site

Imagine the possibilities if one could fit eight years’ worth of community service into a single academic calendar. Picture the changed lives. See in your mind’s eye the bright promise of hope. Soak in the caring that could take place.

It’s exactly what is happening through the hard work and dedication of the students and faculty in the College of Human Services’ Social Work Field Education program directed by faculty member Saundra Ealy. In one school year, 2007-08, Ealy’s charges – 43 undergraduate and 93 graduate students – were placed in 69 agencies throughout the greater Phoenix metro area and across the state. Collectively, the students contributed more than 68,000 hours of social work services – the equivalent of nearly eight years – to children and adults, low-income families, the elderly, dying individuals and their loved ones, and others.

“The internship program allows students the opportunity to practice those theories, skills and interventions that are learned in the classroom,” says Ealy, who joined the Department of Social Work in the College of Human Services in 2001. “It is a time for students to observe other professional social workers as they work with disadvantaged, oppressed or vulnerable populations.”

One of the many success stories belongs to grad student Sarah Brook and her recent internship with Catholic Charities in Phoenix where she served under Resettlement Director Joanne Morales. During a five-month service, Brook offered support to refugees by providing mental health education and in-home visits to families facing significant adjustment issues.

Although Catholic Charities was established in Phoenix in 1933, the resettlement of refugees in 1975 was a fledgling, just-emerging program. In the past 33 years, it has grown and evolved, recognized nationally as a leader in the effective, compassionate resettlement of thousands of refugees. Today, the Phoenix refugee Program boasts a continuous talent resource provided by student interns.

“The interns bring many skills to our unique program,” says Morales, who has worked with ASU interns for three years at Catholic Charities. “First, they are highly prepared, skilled, thoughtful and dedicated to the profession.

“They bring with them new developments in the field, which enables our program to evolve with emerging best practices. They bring creativity and have new ways of looking at situations.”

Brook is certainly among those whose drive has positively impacted the lives of the community’s refugee population. Her work for Catholic Charities might have seemed like déjá vu. Prior to entering her graduate studies at ASU’s West campus, Brook was a case manager at the Urban Pathways Olivieri Drop-in Center for Homeless Women in New York, providing a full range of counseling and case management services while also creating and directing a client leadership council designed to provide a forum to assist clients in the identification and prioritization of center issues. Prior to that, Brook was a resident worker at New York’s Maryhouse Catholic Worker where she co-managed and operated the House of Hospitality, providing shelter, clothing and meals for homeless live-in guests and others. She also was a clothing distribution organizer for the Holy Name Center for Homeless Men in New York where she implemented clothing distribution and informally counseled clientele.

Having established a résumé of social work that dates to 2000, the graduate of the University of Notre Dame (B.A. Liberal Studies, ’06) added to it with her five month, 340-hour internship at Catholic Charities. The experience taught her life lessons different from her classroom curriculum.

“There’s no amount of school learning that can fully equip you for developing effective working relationships with clients,” says Brook, who will earn her master’s in social work in the spring of 2009. “Client contact; in working with clients from very different cultures than my own, I had to learn – and I’m still learning – to walk the fine line between respecting their cultural values and maintaining a degree of professionalism as a social worker. To me, respecting someone else’s culture means not prioritizing my values above theirs.

“The internship gives you the chance to put all you’ve learned into action, and also to begin to understand and develop your own particular way of practicing social work.”

Morales, whose introduction to Catholic Charities came through her MSW field placement while at ASU, points to the internship program as a critical stage in a social worker’s development.

“One of the strongest components we can develop is cultural competency and international issues within social work. The students are working with clients from all over the world – they learn about compassion and how to be effective advocates.”

“Sarah impressed me with her thoughtfulness and her respect for our clients and her work,” she notes.

Field Director Ealy, a clinical professional who earned her bachelor’s in social work from Temple University and her MSW from the University of Michigan, says the program also serves as reinforcement to students of the honor involved in the social work field.

“They will learn a very important lesson,” she says. “They come to realize that their passion for those whom they serve, and the commitment to the profession, is one of the highest callings one human being can have.

“They learn and experience a discipline that can work with all types of individuals, families, communities and organizations, because each of these have strengths that can help change to happen.”

For MSW prospect Sarah Brook, the field work she completed, and the lessons learned during her College of Human Services internship with Catholic Charities, were important ingredients in the overall mixture that is necessary in the building of healthy communities.

“Working in the field this way is the only way to integrate your own ideals into the reality of what the profession requires. It is the starting point to define your own method of social work practice.”