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    The Pros and Cons of Placing Students in Internships

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    As many of you know, internship experiences are the most important part of a social work program. Since the MSW is a professional degree, having a professional experience that you can apply your coursework is necessary. Internships do more than provide free labor and something to do.

    They test the student’s knowledge and help them discover their future goals. Internships are learning experiences, and students should complete as many internship opportunities as they possibly can. I am about to finish my eight internship, and I know I will be completing at least one before I graduate school. Without all these internships, I would not have known the aspects of the social welfare sector that I like and dislike, as well as where I excel.

    Considering these points, it is important for schools to be able to provide successful learning experiences. In order to ensure students get these opportunities and abide by the regulations of the Council of Social Work Education, most social work schools place their students at sites. I do not want to state that this is a wrong way to complete internships, especially for graduate students, but there definitely are positives and negative components of this approach. The following points should be considered while we talk about this internship reform.

    I’ll start with the positive aspects first of this approach first.

    Students are guaranteed some experience.Whether or not the student believes it is applicable, the student will get experience that they will benefit them in one way or another. They may not being doing the work they want to do or end up doing, but they are learning something that will help them in some way or another.

    It helps those students who are unsure of their career goals. Even though I believe that students without career goals should not enter graduate work, this way helpful for them to identify opportunities and explore fields of social work, they may not realized existed. Let’s face it. An MSW degree can be an exploratory process, especially for some of the less qualified and motivated students.

    The school has better connections than the student. Obviously, the school staff knows more professionals and agencies in the local community than the student. If a student is not originally from the area or went to college in another city, they may not have the connections or know of the agencies to obtain an internship. Agencies also can reach out to the schools and inform of their ability to host students.

    There is less worry about abiding by the national council’s standards. Most likely a student does not know the policies and procedures of the CSWE, and they would have to attempt to understand all of them in order to choose a placement. Luckily for students, the schools have staff that know the policies and ensure each experience qualifies.

    Students learn to make the best out of situations. As social work students, this the best part of schools placing students at agencies. Social work students are unique and are working with clients who may not be able to change their situations. How are we supposed to motivate our clients to make the best out of their situations, if we cannot make the best out of our own? Our internships are ways for us to experience first-hand what it is like to be given a situation and learn to maximize the opportunity. There is definitely something to acknowledge when a student turns an internship that may not want into an experience they enjoy.

    Even though there are many good things, every system has its flaws. Here are a few things that I noticed that are not beneficial:

    There is no guarantee that the student will be able to explore their interests. Internships are learning experiences, and crucial for students to figure out what they want to do. If the internship experiences are chosen for them, then they cannot explore their interests. Students should be about learning as much as you can possible while in school, and should passionately follow opportunities that interest them.

    Students may not be adequately prepared to obtain a job in their desired field. Most MSW programs have at least two internship experiences, depending on the program. If a student is placed in two internships they do not like or realize they would like to do something else by the time the graduate, they are going to have a difficult time finding a job they do like. For example, my school places you the first year, but you get the chance to choose your placement the second year.

    The fact you can choose your second placement is their excuse when students complain that they would like to pick their placement. I honestly do not agree that answer is good enough. For example, a macro student interested in policy will most likely be placed in a clinical internship their first year, then they chose their second year placement. The next year they pick a policy internship, but realize they do not like it or would prefer to do something else like program management. Now what? The student has two internship experiences of things they do not want to do, and are not prepared to have a job they may want to have.

    Graduate students should not be babied.By the time an individual reaches graduate school, they should have a specific plan of what the degree is going to do for them. If a graduate student does not have any idea of what they want to do, then they should NOT go to graduate school. They should probably go work for a couple of years, do more internships, complete a public service program or spend time figuring out what you want to do before you spend your money on something that you may end up not liking. Placing students in their internships is treating them like high school or undergraduate students. Graduate students should be more than capable to find their own internships.

    Students do not develop the professional skills needed for job searching post-graduation. This is a big flaw I see in this system. Students need to learn in school while they have resources available to develop professional skills, such as resume writing, cover letters, interviews and networking. If the school does all of that for them, students will not have the necessary skills needed when they enter the job market. In some ways, this method promotes laziness since the school is going to do everything for the student. Students need to learn to do the work themselves and prepare for applying to jobs. It is not easy. Ask any graduate. Students need to learn to fail when it comes to job. Every young professional is not going to get every job they submit an application. Learning this now and obtaining support from school services will be extremely helpful when they undergo the arduous process of applying for jobs post-graduation.

    Placing students becomes political.Unfortunately, I feel that almost everything is political and social work schools certainly have to deal with these issues. Agencies will expect quality students from the school, and if they do not get them, they may not accept any more interns or even graduates. Schools then have to deal with placing the good students are the sites they want to maintain good relationships with, and then the rest of the agencies get the students left over. If an agency and student both a say in the process, then less responsibility falls on the school if they experience does not work out. Also, schools may focus on the social work areas that benefit the school rather than the student. Students need a voice in these decisions, especially since it is influential factor in their lives.

    Honestly, I believe each student should be treated individually. We cannot use a universal system for every student. The students who may have discovered what they want to do and have a strict career plan should be allowed to tailor their education to that field. The students who may not know what they want to do can opt to be placed and the school can take care of it. I completed eight internships and had a job before I started my MSW program. I knew what I wanted out of this program more than the students who did not do any internships before starting graduate school.

    I may have been fine finding my own internship, but other students may have not been prepared. Students are professionals or are learning to become professional. If they pick an internship they do not like, then they know that for next time. Without this opportunity to explore, how can a student develop successful career goals on their own with a school holding their hand the entire process?  It seems ironic that a field focused on motivating the individual to make decisions in their life has such strict regulatory standards. Universal methods and social work do not usually go together.

    Also View Segments on PBS NewsHour:

    Former Interns Debate the Worth and Legality of Unpaid Internships

    Will Work for Free: How Unpaid Internships Cheapen Workers of All Ages

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    Jonathan Richardson is the Social Work Helper Staff Writer focusing on Students Issues and Concerns. He currently is a graduate student at University at Albany getting his MSW and MPA degrees. Jonathan has a background in a variety of nonprofit administrative and direct practice experience with a specialization in fundraising and development, and he hopes to empower the next generation of leaders and provide them with the motivation to positively impact their local communities. You can also visit his personal blog www.jonathanknowseverything.blogspot.com.

    Education

    Project-Based Learning for the Virtual Classroom

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    Project-based learning (PBL) may not be the first thing that teachers consider when planning for remote or hybrid lessons. However, with a little creativity and an organized approach, project-based learning can engage students in a way that may be lacking during typical virtual instruction. So what is it, exactly? PBL, simply put, is an approach to learning through exploration of a real-world problem or question. Ideally, students choose to investigate a problem or challenge that means something to them – something that impacts their daily lives. Then, through research, collaboration, and exploration, students gain a deeper understanding of the issue or challenge and how they can contribute to a solution. Even more important is the fact that, through project-based learning, students gain a better understanding of who they are as learners and critical thinkers. With being said, let’s look at how instructors can utilize PBL in virtual settings.

    How to Organize PBL for Remote Learning

    “Embrace the chaos of now” by asking students to discuss what is currently troubling them. When students have a vested interest in their classwork, they will obviously be more inclined to engage in the work and follow through on the assignment. Ask about challenges or problems they’ve been having, such as:

    • What has been your biggest struggle with adapting to virtual/remote learning?
    • What needs are not being met in this “new normal?”
    • How has your daily routine changed since the start of the pandemic?
    • What is a problem that you see your peers, neighbors, teachers, community struggling with?

    After students have identified an issue or challenge that they personally recognize in their day-to-day lives, ask them to do a little preliminary brainstorming about the problem using a standard KWL chart. The KWL chart is an old favorite in the classroom for any sort of introduction to a new topic, concept, or unit. For project-based learning, the KWL chart provides students with a visual starting point and a trajectory for where their research is headed. The graphic organizer, for those who have not used it before acts as a simple t-chart to organize what students already know (K) about the topic, what they want (W) to know about the topic, and what they learn (L) throughout their research process. This simple visual aid acts as the foundation for critical thinking by visually, yet simply, organizing a student’s thoughts.

    Next, you can help students with backward design or backward mapping by outlining objectives first. Again, project-based learning is all about allowing students to explore a challenge and identify a resolution or fix for the problem. In order to adequately lay out the groundwork, students must have a clear and definitive end goal. Therefore, in planning for success, teachers need to help students employ backward mapping strategies by beginning with something like a S.M.A.R.T. (Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Timely.) goal—then working backward from there to achieve that goal.

    Instructors can also utilize haptic engagement or hands–on learning by encouraging students to physically try out or experiment with their ideas. Teachers can model this experiential learning by choosing their own PBL to focus on while kids are working. Show students that, in order to truly solve a problem, people must occasionally get their hands dirty. It is also important for teachers to note that success stories are almost always trial and error—a sound solution will not come right away. By testing hypotheses and modifying approaches, students truly understand the value of hands–on, experiential learning. Not only are these demonstrations helpful for getting closer to a solution, but haptic engagement also teaches students about grit, perseverance, and strategies around error analysis.

    Another great skill set that students may develop while participating in PBL classroom activities involves retrieval practice. Since students are focusing their work on one primary challenge, they are able to hone their focus and truly absorb new information as they learn. Teachers can help foster retrieval strategies with activities such as Cornell note-taking, peer teaching, and Socratic seminars, in which students take the lead in delivering information to one another.

    Try some of these PBL strategies out in your next lesson, whether it be virtual or in-person, and see the results for yourself.

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    Education

    New Preschool Program in Oregon is a Model for the Nation—But Challenges Remain

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    By Mary King and Lisa Dodson

    In November 2020, voters in Multnomah County, home to the city of Portland, resoundingly approved the creation of a new, universal preschool program—a program that could serve as a model for desperately needed preschool and childcare investments for the entire country. All three- and four-year-olds in Multnomah county will be able to attend a free, year-round, universal, high quality preschool program that meets their needs as well as those of most families, providers and staff, and local businesses. Key elements include a wide range of choices for families as well as living wages and professional supports for providers and workers. The program is slated to be equitably funded by a local income tax on the highest income households.

    Two big challenges remain: ensuring that families with “non-traditional” work schedules are included, and significantly increasing public investment in facilities to allow preschools to expand well beyond church basements and providers’ homes. Those working non-traditional hours are disproportionately low-income, women, people of color, and often “essential workers” without whom our society and economy would not function. Federal childcare initiatives must address the needs of families with such work schedules, or the families that most need public child care will be left out.

    A Universal Model that Serves Diverse Needs

    Universal preschool programs benefit all children and lead to better outcomes than means-tested programs for the most disadvantaged children. Means-tested programs such as Head Start seek to deliver services only to households with low incomes. Although means-tested programs “target the poor,” universal programs bring children and families from across the socioeconomic spectrum together, challenging ongoing race, ethnic and class segregation that erodes democracy. Universality also inspires broad support to maintain adequate funding. After fifty well-regarded years, Head Start is still available—but only for a fraction of eligible families, and even then, often only part-time and part-year. High quality preschool and child care is out of reach for the large majority of families who already face the high cost of housing, health care, and student debt with stagnating wages. Importantly, universal preschool is both a two-generation anti-poverty program and a powerful boost to economic development, because it returns $9.45 to the community for every dollar spent.

    Families raising young children are diverse and need a wide range of options. Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will offer choices of:

    • language and cultural contexts, including Afro-centric and other alternatives,
    • types of setting, including family childcare providers, public schools and free-standing centers, and
    • schedules, including school year and year-round, full and part-time, weekend days as well as week days, with up to 50 hours a week for families that need or want longer days

    Children with disabilities will be included, facilitating earlier identification of health issues and treatment. Expulsions, now too common in preschool settings particularly for children of color, will be prohibited, requiring that the system provide supportive interventions to meet all children’s needs.

    Fair Pay and Professional Support for Providers and Workers

    Currently, U.S. family childcare providers, preschool teachers, and childcare workers earn poverty wages with few benefits and often cope with difficult working conditions. The result is high turnover; the loss of skilled, experienced and dedicated workers to jobs that better support their families; and damage to the quality of care. High quality child care depends on the ongoing relationships caregivers develop with families, children, and co-workers.

    Multnomah County’s new Preschool for All program will pay teachers comparably with kindergarten teachers, doubling their current salaries. The wage floor for assistant teachers and other classroom staff will be set at nearly $20 an hour when the program starts in Fall 2022, with pay levels adjusted to reward increasing skills, training and experience. Continuing professional development will be geared to the schedules of the low-income working parents who are over-represented among preschool workers. Should workers wish to join a union, employers will be required to remain neutral.

    Funding universal high quality child care is within reach. Over the past 40 years, U.S. economic gains have been concentrated on an ever smaller group of the wealthy, while responsibility for paying for our infrastructure and public services has been shifted from the affluent to the working and middle classes. Reversing such trends, Multnomah County’s preschool program is to be funded by a county income tax on approximately eight percent of households at the top. Combined federal, state, and local income tax rates for such households will still fall far below the top tax federal income tax rates in place for the much of the 20th century, from the 1930s through the 1970s.

    Unmet Challenges

    Multnomah County intends to offer preschool up to ten hours a day and on weekend days, but has not committed to other “non-traditional” hours. Employers demand “non-traditional” work schedules for the three occupations expected to add the most jobs between 2019 and 2029: home health and personal care aides, fast food and counter workers, and restaurant cooks. Many retail and hospitality positions also entail low wages and employer insistence that workers maintain “open availability,” and healthcare, construction, and gig workers struggle with work schedules that make it very difficult to find child care.

    Multnomah County will pay fair wages to everyone working in the classroom, but will not supplement the pay of people working in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs that pay too little to retain skilled people in the face of a more attractive alternative. The county plans to support some infant and toddler programs, but won’t be able to overcome the severe shortage of affordable, quality care for these age groups, likely to be exacerbated by competition from a preschool system offering better compensation. Finally, preschool and child care is now crowded into inexpensive or public spaces; serving all children well will require a significant investment in physical facilities.

    Despite such continuing challenges, Multnomah County’s Preschool for All offers a national model, with its variety of choices to families, living wages for all classroom staff, and an equitable approach to public funding. Each of these aspects needs to be included in any new federal program. In addition, a new federal program should aspire to offer high quality child care to families struggling with difficult work schedules, until labor legislation is revised to place limits on such unpredictable schedules. Strategies will also need to be implemented to improve the wages of workers in Head Start and other public preschool and childcare programs.

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    Diversity

    Why Political Science Can and Should Lead Diversity Efforts in Higher Education

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    Diversity is big business in the academy. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie, and Robert Wood Johnson support academic efforts to diversify the professoriate; and colleges and universities across the country are investing significant resources in diversity efforts. Furthermore, the academy has begun hiring chief diversity officers, following corporate sector trends — 60% of Fortune 500 companies have chief diversity officers among their top-executives.

    Although the numbers of women in political science have shown modest growth over the last two decades, the number of women of color in the field has largely remained flat. Political science scholarship on minority representation in U.S. legislatures sheds light on this professional conundrum, too. This literature shows how organized women, racial and ethnic minorities, and their allies can promote diversity and inclusive practices to bring about lasting change in political science, other disciplines and higher education more broadly.

    An Opportune Moment for Political Science

    Research on social movements shows that, when windows of opportunity arise, activists must have the resources to change the status quo and push for policy breakthroughs. I suggest that heightened attention to institutional diversity across academia presents an opportunity that political scientists can and should seize by presenting themselves as credible stakeholders who are well-equipped to: steward institutions’ newly available resources, run innovative pilot programs, and produce returns on institutional diversity investments for both students and faculty.

    Student demands will be a key resource in these efforts, but administrators can often “wait students out” — stalling student diversity efforts until a new cohort must begin afresh. Political Science is uniquely positioned to lead institutional change by using research from the discipline to encourage student activists to investigate the issues, formulate long- and short-term goals, determine the scope of their influence, identify allies and opponents, construct informed arguments, and make specific demands with measurable outcomes. This informed activism can help students leverage their status over time as students, alumni, and donors to move towards shared goals for departmental, disciplinary, and institutional change.

    Political Science is attracting many undergraduate women majors. Women are faring as well as men on the discipline’s job market. They are approaching pay equity with male colleagues and increasing their presence in the ranks of full professors. In 2010, women of color comprised 13.5% of female political science faculty, more than double their share in 1980. Although this improvement remains relatively modest compared to the nearly 300% increase in women faculty over that span, the progress for women of color is promising and can act as a foundation for future diversity efforts. Nevertheless, many challenges must still be addressed — including burdens of balancing tenure-track and family responsibilities, “inhospitable” institutional climates, and research norms that discount women’s contributions to collaborative work.

    Building a Diversity Infrastructure

    Sheer numbers are the first requirement for building diversity infrastructure. With sufficient numbers, members of gender and racial caucuses can promote further change and build organizational capacities. Research on the impact of diversity in Congress shows that the Congressional Black, Hispanic, and Asian Pacific American caucuses encourage information and resource sharing, enhanced communication, and collective action on behalf of racial and ethnic minorities. Through caucuses, task forces, and organized voting blocs, minority legislators have kept low-salience civil rights issues on the congressional agenda despite waning public interest. Women’s and racial and ethnic caucuses in national and regional political science associations show that female political scientists can capitalize on their numbers to act as disruptive-insiders to further diversify faculties and challenge discrimination.

    Buy-in from political science department heads who name search committees and from faculty making influential recommendations will be indispensable for furthering these efforts. Departmental objectives can be linked to university diversity efforts. Male faculty members should be encouraged to serve on diversity committees and act as change agents.

    Thinking beyond individual departments, women’s caucuses and ethnic caucuses in political science associations could share resources and knowledge and coordinate agendas. If increasing the racial and ethnic diversity of the discipline is to be achieved, then women’s caucuses will need to work closely with race and ethnic caucuses in the discipline. Although universal sisterhood may be a worthy ideal, faculty women of color cannot be cast as handmaidens rather than full partners in the work of transforming the discipline.

    Mentorship is Not Enough

    The number of women of color entering political science faculties has stagnated, and many minority faculty members leave political science departments for more hospitable interdisciplinary centers. Recruitment and retention should therefore be top priorities — and that is going to take more than just mentoring programs.

    Mentorship is a common answer to the challenge of recruiting, supporting, and retaining minority faculty. Mentoring, however, only teaches people how to survive in institutions. It does not necessarily attract more people to enter institutions, and it does not help them change institutions. Although the very presence of black women on academic faculties and in front of classrooms changes the academy, that is not enough. Despite widely shared good intentions, the discipline cannot rely on mentoring alone to help women of color overcome racism, sexism, and other systematic obstacles to their advancement. At best, mentoring will help women faculty of color expand their social networks, establish important professional relationships, and better navigate minefields. At worst, mentoring will help some individuals survive and advance, while maintaining longstanding power disparities in the discipline. Mentoring obviously cannot ameliorate the impediments that routinely challenge and undermine women of color at all ranks of the professoriate. Political science must lead the way in identifying and deploying all of the strategies that can bring broader progress in universities and disciplines.

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