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New Opportunities In Social Work Studies

Professor and student

November 2015 | by Craig DeVrieze


Aging baby boomers increasingly in need of social services-coupled with a growing number of retiring social workers from that same demographic-are making social work one of the fastest-growing professions in the United States.

Two significant new options within the St. Ambrose University Master of Social Work degree program further accentuate the ways a comprehensive, interdisciplinary education can prepare well-rounded students to fill that burgeoning workplace need.

Those added options include the introduction of a dual master's degree program that will allow graduate students to save both time and money while pairing an MSW degree with a Master of Business Administration degree from the St. Ambrose H.L. McLaughlin MBA program.

Several MSW alumni are making use of the dual degree opportunity this year, pursuing their MBA degrees on an accelerated path that will give them credit for elective courses they already completed while earning their MSW.

Starting next fall, the dual degree opportunity will become available to students currently enrolled in the MSW program, effectively allowing them to earn two master's degrees in three years as opposed to an investment of four years or more.

Also next fall, undergraduate students who major in theology, sociology, women and gender studies or psychology will have an opportunity to apply for early entry into the MSW program. It is a path that will help them earn credits toward their MSW degree while still working on an undergraduate degree. Those who pursue this track may be able to join the workforce a year sooner and save on tuition costs.

"It is an efficient plan of study that rewards students who come to St. Ambrose knowing they want to be a social worker," said Sandra Cassady, PT, PhD, vice president for strategic initiatives and dean of the College of Health and Human Services.

Dual Masters Build on Opportunity
The changing natures of healthcare and social service have made business skills a valuable commodity in the social work industry, said Katie Van Blair '92, '05 MSW, PhD, director of the School of Social Work.

That means licensed social work professionals equipped with an MBA are highly valued in the field.

"The social service marketplace really has become that-a marketplace," Van Blair said. "It is this business-oriented environment in which we live, and to be at the table, sometimes you have to know how to speak the language and have credentials that your nonprofit board sees as valuable.

"Over the past five years, we have had students and community leaders say they are moving into administrative positions, but don't have those hard business skills. Students and alumni are very excited about this dual degree idea."

The dual degree opportunity certainly appeals to first-year MSW student Lindsey Mack, whose exposure to social justice and service at St. Ambrose led her to the MSW program even while she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Accounting in 2015.

"I volunteered and made a difference in places in the community and I really liked the way I felt afterward," she said. "Seeing and hearing about all the people who really need assistance in life, I just want to be there for them."

She also knows she can be more helpful to those people with an enhanced understanding of business practices. "There's just so much about social work that people don't understand is administrative," she said. "It's really cool that they provide this resource."

Randy Richards '71, PhD, interim director of the MBA program, believes an MBA can have multiple applications in the social work field. "We are looking to provide students whatever they might need for skills and competencies," he said.

The Right Track
The MSW program has historically attracted students with St. Ambrose degrees in theology, psychology, women and gender studies and sociology, but the opportunity to pursue "fast-track" MSW credits should encourage more to follow.

Students will be able to take advantage of foundational liberal arts undergraduate degree programs at St. Ambrose, secure in the knowledge they are working toward a professional career as well, Van Blair said.

The grounding in the liberal arts provided by the general education curriculum at St. Ambrose, as well as through traditional liberal arts major programs, creates well-rounded graduates primed to succeed in any profession, Cassady said. Plus, given the university's service-driven, life-enriching mission, Ambrosians are particularly well-suited for social service.

"It's the strong skill set of a liberal arts education being applied to a professional degree," said the dean. "Problem solving, communication and critical thinking are all very important for social work."

Katy Strzepek, director of the Women and Gender Studies program in the College of Arts and Sciences, said her undergraduate program is a natural lead-in to a career in social work.

"I think our program is a really good fit for the empowerment model that they have in MSW," she said. "A lot of our students do internships and have similar placement opportunities that MSW students have."

Strzepek said many of her program's social-work bound graduates have shopped around for affordable MSW options, and now won't have to look anywhere else. "If we can offer them the undergraduate tuition rate for MSW credits and take a year off of their commitment, that is a significant savings," she said.

Patrick Archer, PhD, an associate professor and chair of the Sociology and Criminal Justice program, said high school students searching for bachelor's degrees in social work now have a great reason to take a second look at St. Ambrose.

"They actually might find this more flexible," he said. "They can major in what they really want and still end up getting that licensed credential through the master's program. When it comes to the positions they want to get and the pay they want to earn, they're going to want to have the MSW.

"Social work is the job title. Maybe they don't see sociology, theology, psychology and gender studies getting them there."

Now, they can.

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