The various schools of social work in Greater Boston provide a major portion of the workforce needed to care for those living on the city’s margins. The Boston College School of Social Work field education office is one of the leaders in filling this need, by building the kinds of relationships necessary to ensure that the best caliber students are placed with the organizations that need them the most.
Each year, more than 500 BCSSW students provide upwards of 300,000 hours of service, while gaining a unique perspective on the world in which they will work following graduation, through apprenticeship, mentoring, and on the ground experience. Field education provides a truly reciprocal relationship between the school, its students, and its partner individuals and organizations.
“Field Education is the cornerstone of the BC Social Work curriculum,” says Director of Field Education Sue Coleman. “We are fortunate to have cultivated relationships with a wide array of quality partner organizations, many of which have strong existing ties to Boston College. We view field education as an opportunity for our students above all, but we are confident knowing that the caliber of BC MSW candidates is second to none, and that their contribution to our shared city is real, and meaningful.”
“The field education office at BC really cares about its students,” says second-year MSW student Vivian Pham. “When I spoke with my field education specialist, he listened to my interests, the areas I needed to grow in, and provided thoughtful advice about the agencies I would best fit in. He took the time to get to know me, and this came through in my placements.”
During her first year, Pham worked in a youth development substance abuse prevention program at the South Boston Community Health Center. During year two, she was placed at Dana Farber in workforce development, where she took the lead on the program evaluation of an initiative that follows up with the graduates of an onsite internship program for underserved populations. Pham says that the “mix of macro and clinical” in her Dana Farber placement provided a perfect fit for her.
While not all internships service both areas, the field education office is attuned to the needs of students who are specializing in each. At DOVE, Inc., an organization based in Quincy, Massachusetts devoted to ending domestic violence, both clinical and macro students have played important roles in the organization, explains DOVE’s Executive Director Sue Chandler.
Clinical students from BC have provided individual support, danger assessment and safety planning, and court and police-based services to victims of domestic violence, she says. They’ve also helped clients to create and work toward their own goals. Interns have also run support groups and responded to hotline calls in the shelter. Macro students, on the other hand, have worked with DOVE’s Neighborhood Organizer and the YouthSpeak Teen Healthy Relationships and Dating Violence Prevention Program.
Of course, responsibilities can range greatly depending on the kind of placement, and often, students are encouraged to try something that may be out of their comfort zone.
Frank Garcia-Ornelas spent the last semester at the Suffolk County House of Corrections, providing counseling to the population of inmates living with mental disorders. He’s already accepted a job in higher education counseling, and says that his most recent placement definitely helped him determine what he doesn’t want to do. Still, it was an incredibly positive, challenging experience for him.
“From the first day of the placement, my supervisor told me, we’re not going to treat you like an intern, you’re a clinician,” explains Garcia-Ornelas. “And while I was unsure of my abilities when I started the placement, I now feel confident knowing that my semester at the Suffolk County House of Corrections has helped me to develop my skills. I can take what I learned there and apply it to my future work.”
This kind of flexibility and devotion to getting better, in a nutshell, defines the uniqueness of those students who go through the BC field education office, says Craig Keefe, Clinical Director at The Academy of Physical and Social Development in Newton, Massachusetts. BC students are independent starters, who are quick on their feet, and willing to take on a variety of challenges. “On any given day we may ask them to do anything from provide lunch support for a child, to counsel a child who has lost a parent,” he explains. “It’s not always easy to have to think on your feet and take on tasks that may be new to you, but I find that the BC students are nimble and able to be very successful.”
And while BC students are certainly benefiting the most from their opportunities to learn in the field, it’s not only BC Social Work students who are doing the learning, adds Brian Gonsalves, who is Director of Student Support Services at Boston Green Academy.
“We’re very lucky to have students of the caliber of BC here at our school. I appreciate all of their up-to-date knowledge from their coursework, which has allowed me to stay relevant myself in the clinical field. It’s a privilege to be able to continue to improve in my own profession, and my ongoing connection with BCSSW plays an important role in my own development.”