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field nov story10.31.2016

Working in the field is an important part of the curriculum for MSW students. According to Director of Field Education and Clinical Associate Professor Melissa Reitmeier, in a field placement “there’s a lot of opportunity for students to learn about a client and the multiple systems that impact them,” and this allows students to “apply the theory, values, and knowledge” from the classroom. The College of Social Work boasts over five hundred connections to community organizations across South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia. Here is a look at just a few ways CoSW students are learning and serving out in the field.

Kershaw County High Schools and Richland School District Two are field sites where CoSW interns are improving their social work practice and helping families. Camden and Lugoff-Elgin High Schools in Kershaw County offer an interdisciplinary setting. The graduate students placed here have the opportunity to interact with mental health providers, school counselors, teachers, school staff, families, and students. Their role, explains field instructor Dr. Candice Morgan, “is to provide the support for human services” while also implementing the Aspire program developed by Dr. Aidyn Iachini.

Aspire is a nine-lesson program designed to assist ninth graders who are at risk for dropping out of school. The program incorporates motivational interviewing (MI) and skill building in order to support these students in making the positive changes they envision for themselves. Iachini and Professor Rhonda DiNovo provide forty hours of training in MI to prepare students for working in this placement, followed by conducting role plays in which students receive personalized feedback on their MI skills. Once the students are working on-site, they work in concert with school counselors, principals, and others to determine which ninth graders would be a good fit for the Aspire intervention. Iachini explains that the program is structured thusly: “the first four lessons are the clinician/CoSW intern getting to know the high school students, their values, what they care about, what they think they’re doing well in school, and areas where they’d like to see improvement.” After fostering a conversation with the high schoolers, the CoSW intern helps the students develop change plans with feasible goals and then monitors their progress.

At Richland Two, CoSW student Ashley Clay works on-campus but off-site, rather than in the school building like at Camden. Morgan says that this placement is a “very focused behavioral health setting” in which the graduate students provide individual counseling services (with supervision) to parents and students. Clay values the opportunity to work in an interdisciplinary setting, stating that she has “learned several techniques from the counselors that I used that are very helpful in my practice,” and she believes that having this experience will serve her well post-graduation. “Before I was always social work, social work,” says Clay, “but to do our jobs effectively sometimes we have to work with others that have different backgrounds and perspectives. At my field placement I get a well-rounded experience.”

Another unique field placement is at the Free Medical Clinic, and Keisha Magee is currently working there. “I really admire the staff at the Free Medical Clinic because they donate their time to help those in need,” says Magee, who values the opportunities for networking and creative thinking offered by the Clinic. Her placement has allowed her to directly help those in need. “Recently, I was able to contact an agency and receive a donated CPAP machine for a patient at the clinic,” she says, and she's been able to assist patients with finding eye care, dental care, and meals. “Being able to collaborate with other professionals to treat the person as a ‘whole’ in order to improve patient care is very important to me,” notes Magee, and her placement here has fostered an interest in medical social work.

A good field placement “needs to develop core competencies for our students,” says Reitmeier, which means “unique and varied opportunities to achieve mastery.” Field placements in the CoSW can offer hands-on experience, exposure to other disciplines, and inspiration for career goals. Morgan is grateful for the field office’s support in supervising these unique placements and “making sure that the students and myself feel confident that the student will make autonomous decisions and feel comfortable enough to call and ask for guidance as they need it.” Iachini notes that CoSW students also “have access to a lot of faculty to support their learning and skill development.” Iachini, Morgan, DiNovo, and Andy Flaherty, as well as an on-site field preceptor and field liaison, all work together to facilitate the Kershaw County Schools placement. According to Morgan, the goal is for every CoSW student “to work autonomously as a social worker will in the field,” ensuring that each graduate of the program is ready to effect positive change in every possible client system.


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