Program Reaches Out to Prospective Social Workers

Jeff FeldmanJeff Feldman is NASW New Jersey’s director of public affairs.

Natasha Welsey may not be a social worker yet, but she appreciates the work NASW’s New Jersey Chapter is doing to teach students like herself about the profession through its Prospective Social Workers program.

Welsey, who is pursuing an associate’s degree in human services, said she was thrilled by the chance to take part in the chapter’s program, which offers students at two-year colleges the opportunity to connect with social workers and social work students as well as learn the benefits of being involved with a professional association.

“It provided me with more details as to what each (social work) service provides,” Welsey said. “From that, I am able to pinpoint what field would be best for me.”

Jeff Feldman, NASW New Jersey’s director of public affairs, explained that students like Welsey — who plans to continue her education by eventually obtaining a bachelor’s degree in social work — can benefit greatly from the program.

“A lot of people are re-entering college and many are doing the two-year program,” he said. “We wanted to reach these students and their professors and increase the diversity of our membership.”

With the ongoing economic recession, more students are taking advantage of the lower tuition typically available at community colleges. Many of these students transfer their credits to a four-year school. Students in New Jersey in a two-year pre-social work/human services program — as well as those in a bachelor’s degree program who are not enrolled in a social work program, but are considering entering the field — can apply for the free PSW program, Feldman said.

“We need to engage new and young professionals to think about social work,” Feldman explained. “We need to strengthen and reinvigorate the profession.”

He visits classrooms across the state to talk about the program.

Brina Sedar, instructor and human services program coordinator at Burlington County College in New Jersey, said Feldman visited students last year and explained how social work can lead to social change and social justice on a macro level.

“The direct interaction he afforded the students made them feel welcomed as newcomers,” Sedar said. “His approachable style and gracious demeanor helped students feel comfortable asking questions as they explore their own interests in the field.”

Sedar added, “Students view the PSW program as a valuable resource for getting their questions answered.”

As members of PSW, the students can access the New Jersey Chapter website and attend many meetings and events. They can connect with others through the “Student newSWire,” a newsletter specifically for social work students.

Patricia Packard teaches an introduction to social services course at New Jersey’s Sussex County Community College.

She said most students take her course because they want to help people, but many have adopted common misconceptions about social workers or are unsure about the opportunities a social work degree can offer.

The students have been receptive to the PSW program because it helps them make a concrete connection to a larger organization, Packard said.

“It helps them see the ‘professional’ and ‘career’ aspects of social work.”

Feldman said the PSW program’s credit belongs to the New Jersey Chapter’s executive director, Walter Kalman, and its membership committee.

He added that the goal is to continue to publicize the PSW program to all qualifying community colleges in the state.

“After that, we want to maintain contact and network with these students,” he said. “We hope they pursue their BSW and become a student member and remain with the chapter.”

North Carolina program: Another NASW chapter that’s starting a new social work student program is North Carolina.

The chapter recently launched the Student Liaison program, said Aaron Swart, director of membership services. “This is where we have representative student NASW members at each of the universities and colleges in North Carolina that have a social work program,” Swart said.

The liaisons (both MSW and BSW representatives) deliver pertinent chapter news and information each month either in class or by Listserv, bulletin board, word of mouth or individual e-mails to their fellow social work students, Swart explained.

“Our goal is to empower students to see the importance of NASW membership in their careers as social workers and as students developing their professional identity,” Swart said. “It is our hope to continue to see a rise in student membership that will translate to transitional membership [and then] to full dues-paying membership in North Carolina, and to see these students/professionals use the benefits that NASW offers to elevate the practice of sound, ethical social work in the state.”