Students considering a Master of Social Work have a strong desire to change the world. At Sacred Heart University, the faculty has that desire, too. Every faculty member in SHU’s online social work master’s program commits themselves to helping each student meet their goals through flexible but rigorous coursework and incredible fieldwork opportunities. They also keep a foot in the community, working on real-world projects across the nation.
Recently, SHU’s Master of Social Work program rolled out a new mission statement:
To prepare social workers—through instruction in integrated social work theory, research, methods, and practice—to identify, dismantle, and resist all forms of social work inequality and oppression, particularly issues of racism and its impact on social work practice. We are deeply committed to training social workers to think critically and intervene against cultural, social, political, and economic practices that do not advance human rights, justice, or the dignity and worth of every human being.
To members of faculty at SHU, this mission is more than words on a page. It’s what they live by.
“We want social justice to drive what we do,” said Clinical Assistant Professor and Online Education Coordinator Jill M. Manit, Ph.D., MSW. “We had a lot of intentional conversations around this (mission) as it relates to social justice. We purposefully selected strong and challenging words because that’s what we want our students to feel confident doing when they leave . . . We want them to have the skillset to act on it.”
Dr. Manit is doing a lot of good in her community. One of her recent projects consisted of building a faith-based coalition to combat HIV/AIDs in marginalized populations. She knows what it means to fight injustice and the importance of having the skillset to act on it.
To encourage this ability to act, a course in the program focuses on advanced social justice skills. In the class, students examine the root of all social injustice and explore what they can do about it. The goal is to make students feel comfortable engaging in tough conversations about challenging topics when they leave the program. The program faculty take instilling confidence in students to the next level by exploring how tactics and discussions can be applied to different settings.
“It’s an anti-racism class, and it aims to deepen the students’ understanding of how racism is kind of the root of all injustice,” Dr. Manit said. “From there, we ask what are you going to do about it? . . . How could you intervene against (injustice)?”
This commitment to social justice takes passion and an understanding of modern-day social work. The faculty at SHU is dedicated to helping each student find their passion over time, as they’ve found, and continue to pursue, theirs. That’s why the program doesn’t require students to choose their focus right out of the gate. Instead, they get a well-rounded look at both community and clinical social work.
“It’s helping students to understand the different types of practice that they can work in,” Assistant Professor and MSW Program Director Jason Ostrander, Ph.D., MSW said. “For example, I’ve worked in politics my entire professional social work career. Still do it now. That’s my research specialty . . . Most social workers never would think of that as a way in which to engage in our work.”
We have an integrated practice perspective that really is the hallmark of our program and is instrumental in every decision we make, whether it be our mission or the content that we cover in classes. So, in reality, students are getting exposed to practice-based material whether they’re going to be a clinician working one-on-one with somebody or going to a legislative building to advocate . . . That’s purposefully incorporated in various ways throughout every course. We expose them to the full breadth, which gives them all the skills they need.
The program gives students the opportunity to explore the ways they can positively impact others’ lives without making them commit to a career path before they understand the entire profession. “They come into social work because they want to help people,” Dr. Manit said. “Forcing a student into picking a path right when they enter the program is unfair because they don’t know what they don’t know yet.”
If they change their mind, SHU’s program supports that change. “They have the opportunity to change (paths), and it doesn’t throw them off course significantly.”
While the Master of Social Work at SHU is a rigorous program, students are not without support. From helping students figure out their path to making a difference to getting them into the field, SHU faculty is there every step of the way.
“One thing that we do differently than many other schools of social work programs is invest heavily in our field office,” Dr. Ostrander said. The university employs seven field faculty members to ensure all students get the personal attention they need. “Students typically have a field liaison that works with them a year out from when they’re actually being placed.”
In addition to helping students develop their resumes, the field liaisons practice interviewing with students and assist in identifying relevant field locations. This level of support for students entering the field is unique, but SHU feels it’s vital to students’ success.
Also unlike other online MSW programs, SHU ensures their online students feel connected to the campus community. Dr. Ostrander explained:
We require students to meet with an advisor at least once a semester, but we require the advisors to reach out to their students at least three times a semester. Once in the beginning, once around midterm, and once around week 10 before grades are done so we can get them the support they need to be successful in our program.
SHU proudly offers all social work students a dedicated Ph.D.-level writing tutor who works with both online and on-campus social work students directly via video conference or phone. “All that advising contact really does allow us to get to know our students better,” Dr. Manit added. “I think it helps them to feel that connection to their program.”
Are you looking to impact lives positively and change your community for the better? The Master of Social Work program at SHU can help you do that in a rigorous, supportive, and practical environment. When you leave the program, you’ll be uniquely prepared to intervene against injustices and champion causes you believe in. Find out more today.