Elevating Social Work in Mississippi

By NASW President
Kathryn Conley Wehrmann, PhD, MSW, LCSW

Kathryn Wehrmann

This column is inspired by a wonderful trip I took in my role as NASW president and my desire to thank the many NASW members and others who made it possible.

Every now and then, my wishes are granted. As president, those wishes include: 1) Getting to talk with students about their professional opportunities and how NASW can help; 2) meeting dedicated social work faculty and college administrators and applauding the contributions they make to the profession; and 3) visiting NASW chapters and members to hear about their accomplishments and challenges. 

In February, all three wishes came true through the creativity and ingenuity of three social work educators in Mississippi: Dr. Cora Jackson, of Mississippi Valley State University (formerly of Delta State University); Dr. Angela Savage, of Mississippi State University-Meridian; and Dr. Patricia Williams, of Belhaven University. In the course of three days, I visited three campuses, met faculty from three other schools of social work, visited a vibrant community agency that serves as a practicum site, and talked with students about their future plans to make change in the world. 

After stepping off a late-arriving plane in Meridian, I found myself in the capable care of Dr. Savage. She picked me up the next morning and whisked me off to the Mississippi State University-Meridian campus, where I had the opportunity to meet Social Work Department Director Rhonda Carr and professor Marian Swindell, along with several Mississippi State administrators, including head of campus, Dr. Terry Cruse, and Meridian Mayor Percy Bland. 

Area media also turned out to cover the special student and field instructor luncheon event that occurred later that day. I spoke to the group on one of my favorite topics, leadership in social work, and included a special memorial tribute to Dr. Nancy Humphreys. Overall, it was a great day for social work at MSU-Meridian. I must confess that a special highlight was being presented with a Mississippi State University cowbell. It may soon replace the president’s gavel at national board meetings. 

I later had dinner with MSU-Meridian faculty, including MSU field liaison Robert Guasco, LCSW; NASW Meridian branch representative Andrea Fulgham Germany; Dr. Spencer Blaylock, chair of the Board of Examiners for Social Work; and Jerome Kolbo, director of the University of Southern Mississippi School of Social Work. It was a great opportunity to hear more about the world of social work in Mississippi. 

The next morning, I headed to Belhaven University in Jackson, where I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Patricia Williams, the new director of the social work program, and faculty member Anita Trigg. Dr. Williams brings to her new role an incredible wealth of clinical social work experience and knowledge from the Veterans Affairs health care system. Discussions with both Dr. Williams and Ms. Trigg revealed their deep commitment to supporting students to reach their full potential. Ms. Trigg impressed me as being a dedicated social worker and social work educator, and I suspect she knows every inch of the social service community in the area. She also seems to have a special gift for matching Belhaven’s social work students with exactly the kind of field experience they need to develop their skill and potential. 

The time I spent with Belhaven social work students was a privilege because of how committed they are to making a genuine difference in the world. I was also greeted very warmly by Belhaven provost, Dr. Bradford Smith, who is a huge supporter of Belhaven’s social work program. 

I had lunch with Belhaven faculty members and those from other programs in the Jackson area, including Dr. Laurie Lawson, of Mississippi College; Dr. Patrice Jenkins, of Jackson State; Dr. Cora Jackson, of Mississippi Valley State University; and Charles Araujo, LCSW, legislative liaison for NASW’s Mississippi Chapter. 

From there, Dr. Williams, Dr. Jackson and I went to visit the NASW Mississippi Chapter office in Pearl. Despite the fact that chapter Executive Director Janice Sandefur was just a few days out from the statewide conference in Natchez, she took the time to show me around. It was a great visit, and I was also honored to meet chapter President-elect Phylandria Hudson, LCSW.

My next stop with Dr. Jackson was Delta State University for the Margaret Tullos Field Symposium. Once again, I had the opportunity to have dinner with social work faculty and was appreciative of the warm welcome extended by interim chair, Dr. Jana Donahoe, and faculty members Taylor Skelton and Victoria Peay. 

The following day, I presented my talk to a group of great social work students, field instructors and practitioners. And, to top it off, I had an opportunity to meet retired faculty member Margaret Tullos, for whom the annual event is named. She is a well-loved and respected social work leader in the Delta.

My time in Mississippi went quickly but has made a lasting impression. As I rode with Dr. Jackson to the Memphis airport to head home, I promised I would return. Rest assured, our profession is well-represented by the many social work “elevators” I met in Mississippi. 

Contact Kathryn Wehrmann at president@socialworkers.org.

Social Work Advocates masthead
Rest assured, our profession is well-represented by the many social work 'elevators' I met in Mississippi.