Social Work Majors Getting a Taste of the Field to Come

Social work majors take a class in the fall of their sophomore/junior year called Career Options and Professional Practice. The class is an educationally focused community service experience and seminar that emphasizes socialization into the profession of social work.

The course combines a twice-weekly seminar with agency-based volunteer work in a helping role. A minimum of 100 hours of volunteer work must be completed to receive credit for the course. The seminar helps students explore their “goodness of fit” with a social work career and develop an understanding of their own capacities in relation to professional social work competencies.

Both the classroom and agency experiences of this course build on the knowledge, values, and skills learned in SCW-230: Introduction to Social Welfare and SCW-231: Human Behavior in the Social Environment. The course also prepares students for their senior field courses, including SCW 446-448, by providing exposure to social work roles and further development of basic social work competencies.

The goals for the course are to:

  1. Foster commitment to professional ethics, use of supervision, and accountability to client systems.
  2. Enhance students’ awareness of their personal characteristics that facilitate or pose barriers to performing social work roles.
  3. Promote the development of professional behaviors and identification with the social work profession.

Twenty-two students are enrolled in the course this semester. They are involved in a wide range of organizations from St. Mark Enrichment, Almost Home Shelter, Resources Unite, the Presentation Lantern Center and Shady Rest in Cascade, among others.  

COVID-19 has undoubtedly provided the challenging experience of working in a community setting while ensuring students are provided safety protocols and opportunities to serve in remote capacities. Some students have served without issue throughout the semester, while others have had to “go remote” several times already. Loras created a COVID learning contract the student and agency agree to, which assures students and agency are mindful of the challenges of the times.  

Nancy Zachar Fett (’90), L.M.S.W., associate professor of social work, is the instructor of the course. She believes this assignment has become an essential piece of the students’ growth and development and socialization into the field. One element that has stuck out this semester (which in other semesters was harder to define) is the context of practice. 

What is the environment in which students are practicing, and how does it impact their work with the people they serve?

Cayhla Smart (’22) said, “I am learning the behind the scenes of running a private practice & the abundance of connections that come with the experience – although I have enjoyed this opportunity, it has taught me that it is important to branch out in community-based work before settling in a private practice to discover my own preference in the field.”

Alexa Reyes (’22) stated, “Being able to work within the community has helped me understand the different needs of different groups. I’ve learned that there is also a lack of resources. Working with St. Mark has shown me that I truly love working with kids and getting to know their struggles along with their successes. They are our future, and if we don’t feed them with knowledge and kindness, the world will continue on a destructive path.”

Learn more about the Social Work program here.

About Loras College
Founded in 1839, Loras College leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan colleges to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. In 2020, Loras was ranked the 16th Best Regional College in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report and one of America’s Top 200 Most Loved Colleges/Universities by Forbes Magazine for the fourth consecutive year. Loras students ranked No. 2 in the world as part of the global Peeptrade Investment Challenge while a second group ranked No. 4. For the 12th consecutive year, Loras Media Studies student-led television station (LCTV) was named the TV Station of the Year by the Iowa College Media Association (ICMA).