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Getting to Know: Social Work

September 13, 2017

Rich Kenney Rich Kenney

College Relations publishes a monthly series of news articles, features and Q&A interviews highlighting various departments on campus in an effort to assist the faculty and staff in gaining an increased awareness about and understanding of each other’s roles and responsibilities.

The September Q&A is with Rich Kenney, associate professor and Social Work Program Director.

What is Social Work?

The best definition I ever heard for Social Work came from a five-year-old girl named Melissa. She and her mom were living at a homeless shelter when I first met them. Over time, a team of social workers and I helped them to find housing, job training for mom, and a school for Melissa. During one of my visits to their new residence, Melissa told me she wanted to “grow up to be a social worker.” When I asked her why, she said, “They help you do better.”

While that definition may never find its way into textbooks, I believe she captured the essence of our field. The National Association for Social Workers (NASW) does a fairly good job of explaining what we do as well. According to NASW, the profession of social work “involves helping people function the best they can in their environment. Not only do social workers listen to people's problems or help them express emotions, they help people take action to solve their problems or improve their situations.”

Why should a student major in the CSC Social Work Program?

In addition to learning skills to help individuals ‘do better,’ in Melissa’s words, and to improve the lives and situations of others, our students often find jobs very quickly upon graduation. Several have job offers even before they graduate. Social workers often make a very good living. According to Salary.com, the median salary for social workers with Bachelor’s degrees in 2017 was $54,448.

What credentials do CSC Social Work graduates possess and how do these help in their search for work?

The CSC Social Work Program is accredited through the Council on Social Work Education. This is important because a person with this accredited degree is considered much more marketable in terms of employment and graduate school admission. The degree is also required for social work licensure. The CSC Social Work Program is accredited through October 2022.

What personal traits or characteristics do Social Work majors tend to have?

I could easily fill pages with my list but for brevity’s sake, I’ll touch upon but a few starting with one’s sincere willingness to advocate for individuals in need. We often see a genuine commitment in our students, an instinct to become a voice for someone who needs help but does not quite know how to seek it. Many of our students have a strong belief in social justice. Several have experienced significant injustices in their own lives and become determined to do what they can to improve the levels of fairness and equality in the world. One other important trait our students possess is an appreciation and respect for diversity. They embrace the differences in individuals and sincerely enjoy learning about the cultures that make people unique.

What types of organizations have historically hired CSC Social Work graduates?

Our graduates often find employment in education, health care, mental health, social services, long term care, family therapy, addiction counseling, and foster care.

Employers that have recently hired CSC Social Work graduates include Western Community Health Resources in Chadron, Regional Hospital in Scottsbluff, Neb., Valley Hope Drug and Alcohol Center, in O’Neill, Neb., Black Hills Children’s Home in Rapid City, S.D., Bethany Adoption Services in Rapid City, Pine Ridge Child Protective Services in Pine Ridge, S.D., and the Department of Social Services offices in Rapid City, Torrington, Wyo., and Sioux Falls, S.D.

What gratifying moments do you hear about that inspire social work graduates?

We recently did a survey of past CSC Social Work Program graduates and we were quite impressed with many of the responses. I’ll share with you one student comment from Jennifer Burgess, a graduate from the CSC Social Work Class of 2014. She is currently working as a family specialist for the Department of Health and Human Services.

“I have worked with children and families for the last two years.  I have worked with many different families and feel like I have made a positive difference in most of those families.  During investigations, I have worked with families, law enforcement, and community agencies to find families resources that they need to care for themselves as individuals as well as for the family as a whole. I have watched families start with a lot of problems and work very hard to come out on top. They can be very small things (helping pay bills) to very big things (reuniting children with their families).

The CSC Social Work Program prepared me for the social work field very well. The professors really get you as much field experience as possible and that helps prepare you for graduation and getting a job in social work.”

What are Social Work’s annual events?

One of the biggest events the Social Work Program puts on is the Annual Fall Conference. Each year, the senior class presents a major conference that highlights issues of significance. This year’s conference will focus on sex trafficking and is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov.1, in the CSC Student Center.

Another important event is “Looking at Life through Someone Else’s Eyes: Interviews from Around the World.” The project addresses the importance of diversity and multiculturalism.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Each fall, juniors in our program make formal application to the CSC Professional Social Work Program. They also provide a statement explaining what social work means to them and why they wish to continue in the program. One statement that still resonates with me is one written by Dani Grothe Harm who graduated in 2014. Here is an excerpt:

“When I first told some of my friends and family members I wanted to go into social work, they were disappointed. They told me that I was intelligent enough to be a doctor or a lawyer and make a really good living. According to them, I could do better things than work on what they considered ‘lost causes.’

However, someone has to work for these causes that everyone else had given up on, advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and fight social injustice. Who better to fight these than someone intelligent enough to be a doctor or lawyer? I believe that being a social worker and making a difference in people’s lives is a really good living and is the only way of living I have ever desired.”

—Tena L. Cook, Marketing Coordinator

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