A masterful move

BGSU to launch Master of Social Work program in fall 2017

By Bob Cunningham

Americans are living longer, so the chances of working with older adults is on the rise.

According to AARP, the number of Americans who will need some sort of assistance starting in 2020 is 117 million people, or about 35 percent of the projected population. 

Having a skilled work force specializing in gerontological care will be necessary as Baby Boomers transition into retirement age, and Bowling Green State University has taken the necessary steps to help in that process. 

Starting in the fall of 2017, BGSU will launch its Master of Social Work (MSW) professional program. Having an MSW degree will give graduates professional opportunities in myriad settings in which social workers practice. Specialized training in gerontological social work enables graduates to practice in a wide range of social services and health care settings with older adults.

“The wellness of older adults is a growing concern in the United States,” said Dr. Marie Huff, dean of the  College of Health and Human Services. “Earning a master’s degree in social work at BGSU will ensure student success as highly competent social work practitioners.”

BGSU’s MSW program will provide a blend of online, face-to-face and evening courses tailored to meet the needs of working professionals and newly graduated students. An optimal student-to-teacher ratio provides opportunities for quality connections between students and faculty, and small cohorts mean students receive personalized attention in and out of the classroom.

“We are offering a somewhat unusual program in that we are attempting to build on the strength of the college in its efforts for optimal aging,” said Dr. Derek Mason, associate professor and former coordinator of the social work program. “Our MSW focus has a specialty in social work with older adults called gerontological social work. 

“Nationally, there’s not a program that has a full specialization in gerontological social work. Where we’re unique is, we partnered with the gerontology program on the degree, so it’s pretty much an interdisciplinary degree. That really provides a unique partnership that trains students very thoroughly to work in all kinds of settings. They can work, of course, in nursing homes, but they can work in mental health settings, hospital settings and in any kind of community setting.” 

Earning an MSW can open doors to many opportunities, including advanced practice, higher salaries and administrative positions. Obtaining an advanced degree in social work prepares students to offer a broader array of skills and knowledge critical to helping others. 

“Our program doesn’t just focus on older adults,” Huff said. “Our degree allows students to work with myriad services that provide for older adults and their families. What we know about older adults is that family support is very important, particularly when families are in a caregiving position. So, even though we say it’s about gerontological social work, it’s more than just the older person, it’s also about all the other people who are involved in helping older people.” 

Huff said the MSW gives professionals who are passionate about social justice, policy and developing or improving services the necessary skills. The degree can set graduates on a path to becoming leaders capable of contributing to solutions for the challenges facing our society.

With large portions of the population turning 50 and older, helping older adults and their families also means helping communities enhance the capacity to help older adults. People who already work with older adults can use social work as a way of improving their skill set and enhancing their marketability. The program can help people who do not have a social work degree but intend to include social work in their careers.

BGSU actively maintains a rich array of field placements and agency connections. Classes emphasize experiential learning through the application of concepts and skills in agency or community settings. 

The MSW program’s strengths and uniqueness include:

  • Meets the needs of working professionals by providing quality and flexibility in social work graduate education.
  • Taught by faculty who are actively involved in practice and scholarship.
  • Offers a specialization in gerontological social work with courses in the Master of Science in interdisciplinary gerontology.
  • Degree completion in as little as one year for full-time students admitted to advanced standing.
  • Low faculty-to-student ratio provides opportunities to work closely with faculty on practice and research projects.
  • Experiential learning is infused throughout the curriculum.

“My experience at BGSU was most valuable in shaping my career in social work,” said Julie Pratt, clinical director at Harbor Behavioral Health. “There is something special about being part of a program that truly cares about its students and the profession. I credit the faculty and curriculum with providing me the tools to successfully complete a graduate program and to adapt my skills across all areas of social work.”

BGSU is accepting applications now. For more information about the MSW degree, go to the  Master of Social Work program’s website or contact the Interim Social Work coordinator, Dr. Peggy Adams at padams@bgsu.edu.