June 22, 2005
Few academic disciplines at Baylor have the opportunity to integrate faith and learning as seamlessly as the 34-year-old social work program, designated an independent School by the Board of Regents last November.
OFFICIALLY SPEAKING: Diana Garland became the School of Social Work's first dean June 1. The School will celebrate its independent status formally at its fall convocation Sept. 8 on the Baylor campus. Photo by Cliff Cheney
"We offer what any school of social work offers in terms of education, but we have this enrichment of our curriculum," says Diana Garland, who became the School's first dean in June. "We're adding what has not been a focus in social education -- the development of faith in the lives of individuals, families and communities."
Begun in 1969 and headed for 30 years by Preston Dyer, professor of social work and sociology, Baylor's social work program was separated from the sociology, anthropology and gerontology department in 1999, becoming its own department within the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1997, Garland had come to Baylor as professor of social work and graduate program director from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. At Southern, she had been professor of Christian family ministry and social work and dean of the Carver School of Church Social Work. She became director of Baylor's graduate MSW program in 1999.
Since that year, 11 new faculty members have been hired and the number of graduate students has nearly quadrupled (from 17 to 66). Undergraduate enrollment has grown 24 percent since the late 1990s, to 105 students. External funding for research has nearly doubled, to $1.3 million annually.
In February, the School's combined undergraduate and graduate programs received an exceptional accreditation report from the Council on Social Work Education. The council praised the strong and committed faculty, sound practicum relationships and outstanding practicum process and values-based curriculum, among other accolades. The master's program, which received an outstanding accreditation report in 2001, was ranked No. 87 nationally in the annual U.S.News & World Report's Best Graduate Schools edition last year. Also, undergraduate BSW students carry a 99 percent passing rate on the state licensure exam, compared to the state passing average of 74 percent.
Despite this impressive roll call of statistical success, the social work department lacked one thing to compete on an even playing field nationally -- independent status. "It's a recognition that will benefit students, faculty and the University in numerous ways," Garland says. "Virtually all of the tier-one universities with social work programs have freestanding schools of social work; therefore, for us to be tier one, I made the argument that we needed to have an independent school, to have the visibility and autonomy to show to foundations," she says. "It's the ability to raise scholarship funds for our students. This is a vote of confidence from the University."
The School's ease in recruiting students and faculty also speaks well of the kind of social work scholarship and teaching being conducted at Baylor. Historically, the discipline did not consider a person's spirituality to be a valid part of scientific social work, says Helen Harris, director of field education and senior lecturer in the School. "Now you see a resurgence in the profession of talking about spiritual things. We are on the cutting edge of these issues. We are informing the profession," she says.
Harris, who began Waco's first hospice program in 1984, adds, "We can be completely professional social workers and not compromise our faith or our professional practice. With 30 years of social work experience as a person whose faith is fundamental to me, I can say that it's possible to do."
That academic approach is in harmony with Baylor's mission to prepare students for professional work and service, says David Lyle Jeffrey, Baylor's former provost and vice president for academic affairs. "I think the thing which is perhaps most distinctive about Baylor's School of Social Work is its central emphasis on ministry and on training in the light of the Gospel mandate to go into all the world," he says. "For us [at Baylor], going into all the world and preaching the Gospel does not mean doing so only with words but also with action. Part of the Christian calling is to bear one another's burdens and so fulfill a law of Christ. I think the School of Social Work helps keep that aspect of our accountability to God crisply before us."
Called to serve
Many students who enter the School of Social Work do so out of a sense of calling, says Gaynor Yancey, professor of social work and associate dean of the undergraduate program. "They really want to care for people. They are looking for a major that will help them learn the skills. Some say they believe this is what God wants them to do."
Alumna Kelly Atkinson, BA '00, MSW '01, has served as project coordinator of the City Core Initiative at the School and is a good example of one who feels called to social work. She also works part-time at a local church in its missionary training program. "Those are the two passions of my heart, in terms of loving Jesus and the church," she says. "I believe that Jesus has a purpose to change the world through the church, and social work has a lot of the practical skills that need to be integrated into making that happen."
That perspective reflects the mind-set of the School's faculty as well. "We're in this thing called the changing of the world together, whether it's staff, students, faculty or financial supporters," says Yancey, who came to Baylor in 1999 after working among the poor in Philadelphia for 25 years. "We are family -- it's much deeper than people studying social work together. It's who we are, and it's our calling. We've been challenged many times to be an example for campus, to show how to care for people who are hurting. We take that very seriously. We're trying to model the life and love of Christ in all we do."
Coursework and internships
The School offers undergraduate and graduate programs designed to affirm students' calling through coursework and internships. Undergraduates applying to the program take an introductory class, are interviewed by a social work professor and write an essay describing their values and the rationale behind them. If accepted, students continue their coursework and complete 480 internship hours working as entry-level social workers in public or private sectors. Baccalaureate and graduate foundation-year students attend classes and work in their internships concurrently. Prior to the internship, baccalaureate students also complete about 100 hours of service-learning. Those who complete the undergraduate major at Baylor may apply for the advanced standing program to combine a bachelor's and a master's degree in five years.
Foundation-year graduate students -- those in the first year of the master's program -- also complete two semesters of concurrent internship during the spring and summer semesters. Second-year master's degree students -- concentration students -- must complete 490 internship hours in an area different from their first year with a specific focus on advanced practice.
Concentration students also work on a major research project. "We want that to be meaningful to the profession, not just an academic exercise, so their research is tied to their field internship," Harris says. "I think students would tell you that some of the most profound learning that takes place is in the application of what they do in the classroom. Being able to use the theory is what makes this different from academic learning alone, makes it professional development."
Hilary Marsh, BA '05, cultivated her interest in working with older adults by interning at the Area Agency on Aging, The Salvation Army Ruth Garden Apartments and the Central Texas Senior Ministry Meals on Wheels program. "Interning has been one of my greatest growth experiences since I've been in the School of Social Work. I've learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, not just in my practice, but the person that I am," she says.
The impact of internships is mutual. "We've seen agencies develop new programs and change existing ones as a result of students' research," says Harris, who coordinates student placements. "They have the student there doing the work, but they also are getting the wonderful piece of research, which is done by the student with consultation from faculty members who are experts in that area. I think that's a wonderful benefit."
Qunay White, BA '05, interns at Mission Waco's Manna House and the Paul J. Meyer Center, both of which provide services for the homeless. "I'm in a good situation because I have three people [supervising community practitioners] to guide me in the right direction and give me points of view," says the married father of two children. "If you have real-world experience, you can relate to other people -- it helps you understand where they are coming from and their needs. You think you're going in there to help people, and you learn about yourself as well as about others. I've gained something from all of my experiences."
Faculty members also are involved heavily in keeping the service-oriented mission of the School alive by conducting practical research, creating replicable formulas for community building and writing grant proposals. "The things that faculty members are writing for scholarship also are service in the community and it's teaching students, so it's all three of the functions that are important to us folded into one," Garland says.
In the collaborative model the School has adopted, students play a role in faculty research by assisting in presentation, gathering data, analysis and literature review. "We tend to work in teams," Garland says. "We find that we work better that way and get a lot more done. I think it's a Christian model. It builds community, it keeps us from getting overwhelmed and discouraged by the workload, and we can build one another up."
An example of the success of this approach is that two dual-degree students wrote and were awarded grants totaling $226,000 this past year. Becky Shumake, MSW/MDiv, wrote a proposal to the Texas Workforce to benefit the state's working poor titled "Earn It. Claim It. Save It." The $200,000 grant sparked a statewide campaign. Krissi Vandagriff, also an MSW/MDiv student, wrote and submitted a grant proposal to the Waco Cooper Foundation for $26,000, which funds a volunteer coordinator position for Christian Women's Job Corp.
A significant part of the School's research focuses on the work of faith-based organizations such as local churches, a distinction among similar social work programs. "There's a lot of important social service delivery that comes out of churches and faith-based organizations," Harris says. "Providing professional knowledge, skills and values to that work is a service and a responsibility of a program like ours."
Taking into account the spiritual needs of clients is just as important as caring for them physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially -- something that more social work programs are starting to realize, she says. The Council of Social Work Education now requires the integration of spirituality into college curricula, although Baylor has been a pioneer in this approach.
The School's research projects also look for the good in a community, rather than the traditional method of assessing deficits only. "We are able to work not just with what's wrong but with what's strong," Harris says. For example, the City Core project, which was developed from a request by the Baptist General Convention of Texas, seeks to develop a research-based model on how churches can identify the strengths of their communities and build upon them to promote positive change.
As City Core's director, Atkinson works with four Baylor graduate students to do community assessments and develop strategies with specific local churches. The School then hopes to replicate the model in four Texas cities. "It's choosing as social workers and people of faith to put on those glasses that say the glass is half full," Atkinson says. "How can we call out people's strengths and try to help bring community change from within?"
Garland assumed the deanship with the full support of the School's faculty and with some clear-cut goals. "Her colleagues unanimously requested that she be so named," says former Provost Jeffrey, who praises Garland's "administrative capacities, which are considerable, and her creative and innovative leadership."
Garland hopes to add a doctoral program, build the endowment and add endowed chairs. The first of those, the Diana R. Garland Endowed Chair in Child and Family Services, was announced in April.
She also wants a new building that will house the School and the Center for Family and Community Ministries, the Literacy Center and the Institute for Gerontological Studies -- all faculty-led programs within the School. She says, "These are all expanding initiatives that need a home where they can be integral to the campus and accessible to the community.
"We are, at heart, practitioners," Garland says. "We came to this field to make a difference in the world. If this community is not different because of what we do in the School of Social Work, then we have failed."