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Master of Social Work - Program History

Master of Social Work - Graduate Program 

Established in 2008, the MSW Program is built on a strong social work legacy. The Social Work program at USU was the first in the state of Utah and has graduated students since 1937. A distinct BA/BS degree in social work has been awarded since 1953. The baccalaureate program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and meets requirements established by the State of Utah for licensure of social service workers. The social work program successfully met the first CSWE accreditation standards in 1974 and successfully met all subsequent re-accreditation/affirmation requirements. The MSW program received initial accreditation in 2012 .

The Social Work program is part of the Sociology, Social Work and Anthropology (SSWA) Department which is housed in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHaSS). We will have 13 full-time faculty members, including one tenured professor, two tenured associate professors, four tenure-track assistant professors, and six assistant clinical professors.

MSW Program Overview

USU’s MSW program development was informed by an extensive needs assessment process. The needs assessment provided valuable information concerning the type of program that would be attractive to potential students and community partners. The needs assessment involved three activities: 1) an examination of national and statewide job trends, 2) an advertising campaign that included site visits, public information meetings, agency visits, and key informant interviews in cities located near the main or Statewide Campuses, and 3) an on-line survey. The needs assessment results were clear and convincing: Utah needed a MSW program that 1) graduates social work professionals capable of applying the knowledge and skills of an advanced generalist social work practitioner with systems of all sizes, 2) is accessible to students living throughout the state, particularly the more rural parts of the state, and 3) is accessible to those who need the option to complete the degree at a part-time pace.

In harmony with the results of the needs assessment, we offer a full-time two-year (60 credit hour) MSW program on our main campus in Logan, a one-year (36 credit hour) Advanced Standing MSW program on our main campus in Logan, and a three-year part-time (60 credit hour) MSW program at select Statewide Campuses. Our curriculum and field education component reflect our mission, goals and advanced generalist philosophy and are consistent with CSWE educational policy standards (EPAS, 2008).

Social Work Mission & Philosophy. The Social Work Program's guiding educational philosophy is based on two broad traditions: Generalist Social Work Practice and the Land-Grant University Heritage. The social work program provides a learning environment for those who seek to acquire knowledge and skills in order to bring about meaningful social change in individuals, groups, communities, and society. The MSW program provides grounding in Generalist and Advanced Generalist Social Work knowledge, values and skills such as critical thinking, clarification of personal values, awareness of diversity, professional use of self, and communication and interpersonal relationship skills. The program mission is to prepare social workers for Generalist and Advanced Generalist practice in a diverse society and to equip students with the knowledge and skills essential to the enhancement of the quality of life for all persons.

Thus, our mission reflects both the profession’s purpose and its core values in our student body. Every two years a cohort of approximately 20 full-time students graduate from USU with a MSW degree; a cohort of approximately 50 part-time MSW students graduate every three years. When they graduate, they are committed and prepared to provide service to populations whose opportunities are limited by poverty, racism and oppression. Each year in their field education experience, MSW students are placed in local social service agencies where they practice with and on behalf of individuals, families, groups and local communities to strengthen their well-being and enable them to cope more effectively with life challenges posed by the complexity and inequity of the world around us. Adherence to core social work values can be seen in the classroom context as well in class components and assignments that encourage students to reach past their comfort zones and explore new experiences (e.g. interact with NAMI, the GLBTQ community, or conduct a needs assessment with a refugee group). Our students are grateful for the opportunities to broaden their base of experience.

Our mission is congruent with the University's mission and reflects the program’s context as it emphasizes its land-grant, student-centered heritage. Engagement with local communities is also congruent with core social work values. Our MSW program is held in high regard and enjoys wide community support from its various constituencies. As derived from the University land-grant mission, our MSW program is involved in addressing the issues and needs of our region. For example, through their field practica and student organizations, our students not only achieve educational goals but provide very useful community service throughout Utah. Many community agencies could not serve their existing client base without the help of our students and, in fact, our students are often preferred over those from other programs because of the quality of their contributions. Community service is provided not just through practicum activities; our students also engage in service learning that responds to needs identified in the communities in which they live and work throughout the state.

Our faculty contribute to the profession and to the betterment of society through their teaching, scholarship, and service. For example, faculty members help strengthen the ability of women to function independently and succeed in society. Faculty enabled a disenfranchised group (Native American uranium miners and millworkers) receive the Federal benefits they deserve. Faculty help facilitate the flow of information about nursing home quality of care issues to concerned stakeholders. Faculty inform policymakers on state and local levels with regard to child abuse prevention, foster care, adoption, post adoption, juvenile justice, transition to adult living, and the educational needs of children and youth in state custody. Faculty examine the significance of the social environment in shaping the life chances of vulnerable children and families. Our faculty believe in the value of applied research to improve our communities at all levels of practice (micro, mezzo, macro); they receive both internal and external funding and support undergraduate and graduate student research. Faculty contributions illustrate our long-standing commitment to respect for all people, the quest for social and economic justice, and to a view of social work practice that incorporates a variety of professional roles and responsibilities.

Strengths Perspective. The strengths perspective is the bulwark of generalist social work practice (Hernandez, 2008). It is also consistent with social work’s core values of human worth and dignity, self-determination, and social justice (Blundo, 2008). Moreover, the strengths perspective also dovetails with the empowerment approach to social work practice—another of our program’s underpinnings. Our conception of the strengths perspective is consistent with that set forth by Saleeby (2006), who writes,

Practicing from a strengths orientation means this—everything you do as a social worker will be predicated, in some way, on helping to discover and embellish, explore and exploit client’s strengths and resources in the service of assisting them to achieve their goals, realize their dreams, and shed the irons of their own inhibitions, misgivings, and society’s domination (p.1).

Empowerment Approach. The social work profession has embraced client empowerment as one of the primary desired outcomes of its work (Hartman, 1994). Empowerment-based practice is grounded in a systems/ecological perspective, which is emphasized in our curriculum and is tied to strengths-based practice (Miley, O’Melia, & Dubois, 2007). Our conception of the empowerment approach to social work practice is consistent with that of Briggs and Corcoran (2001) who assert,

Empowerment is an outcome of the process of sharing power. In a shared-power relationship, whether between the social worker and client, supervisor and social worker, or among community members, there is a recognition that everyone has something of value (abilities, gifts) — his or her own power — to contribute to collective outcomes and a responsibility to do so (p.18).

Empowerment-based practice helps clients counter the powerlessness they may experience due to membership in stigmatized groups, negative environmental interactions, negative self-view, economic insecurity, lack of political involvement and/or influence, inadequate access to information, and learned helplessness This is accomplished by assisting clients to claim or reclaim their personal, interpersonal and sociopolitical power (Parsons, 2008).

Social Justice Philosophy. Social justice is the perspective through which social workers understand the connection between personal struggles and structural arrangements of society; it can also be thought of as a goal for an equitable, sustainable society (Fisher & Karger, 1997, as cited in Finn & Jacobson, 2008). Our program embraces the universalist or human rights-oriented perspective on a social justice orientation towards social work practice as described by MacDonald (2006). She writes,

“Social work practice can be seen as promoting a universalist view of social justice balanced by and expressed through a relativist view of human needs, varying from person to person, context to context” (p. 176).

From the universalist perspective, “social justice encompasses meeting basic human needs, equitable distribution of resources, and recognition of the inalienable rights of all persons, without discrimination” (Van Soest & Garcia, 2003, p. 45, as cited in Finn & Jacobson, 2008).

We agree with MacDonald (2006) that a social justice philosophy or orientation towards social work practice provides social workers with moral and political clarity as well as a sense of legitimacy regarding their work. We view social justice as inextricably tied to, or as that which gives practical meaning to, the systems/ecological perspectives and the empowerment approach to social work practice.