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Though the College of Social Work has many strong connections to the community, none are more historically significant than the relationship with the Columbia Urban League (CUL). According to James T. McLawhorn, President and CEO of the CUL, the National Urban League was founded in 1910 with a “social work methodology” for supporting African-Americans seeking opportunities during the Great Migration. Krystal Green, an alumna of the CoSW and Urban League program manager, believes that “the missions of the Urban League and the National Association of Social Workers are in sync,” as both organizations have missions focused on service to the community. Social work is embedded in the history of the Urban League, and likewise the local chapter has always had a robust relationship with the CoSW.

Graduate students in the CoSW have been enjoying field placements at the Columbia Urban League since the 1980s. Students placed at the CUL benefit from the expertise of McLawhorn, who Green describes as a “trailblazer” with “the spirit of a teacher.” According to McLawhorn, the CUL serves a variety of clients, including “over 500 youth in foster care and on Medicaid on a weekly basis,” and this provides an invaluable learning experience for interns, giving them the “opportunity to interact with clients who their profession is geared toward serving.” This early, hands-on experience is a key component of the graduate program that serves to better prepare our graduates for working in the field.

urban leagueGreen agrees that the MSW program at UofSC provided her with a solid foundation for her work with the CUL. “I have my license, and I believe that’s due to me going through the CoSW and them preparing me for that. I enjoyed my time, and I got to meet a lot of amazing people,” some of whom she is still in contact with as a field instructor. In short, the CoSW “still has a place in my heart.”

While in graduate school, Green’s field placement enabled her to work under the supervision of school social workers in Richland Districts 1 and 2. This experience has influenced her work with youth at the Urban League. She currently leads the “Level Up” program, a partnership with the Department of Social Services which serves youth by offering workshops on leadership, financial literacy, health and wellness, and career development—in essence, “all those essential skills they’re going to need as adults,” Green asserts.

Additionally, as a field instructor, Green gets to maintain her ties to the CoSW and share her experiences with graduate students. She supervises interns closely and asks about their coursework in order to facilitate connections between their learning in the classroom and the work they’re doing at the CUL. Progressing from MSW student to field instructor has been “an incredible journey” for her.

The best part of working at the CUL is giving and receiving “the gift of serving the community” every day, says Green, but sometimes these field placements turn into gainful employment. Of their current office staff, two have MSW degrees from UofSC and were first introduced to the CUL through their field placements.

When asked what he believes CoSW students can gain from a field placement with the CUL, McLawhorn did not hesitate: “The Urban League is first of all in the business of helping people, so if you have a passion for helping people to move to a better way of life, that’s fulfilling in itself. I don’t think there’s any more rewarding experience in life than to know you’ve made a positive impact in someone’s life.” For motivated social work students, there is surely no better incentive.


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