School of Social Work marks a half century of helping to heal America’s ills
Archived article from Apr 13, 2004
By Richard Gorman
From the Great Depression through the end of World War II, the growing demand for social services in New Jersey overwhelmed the 2,500 social workers laboring in public and private welfare agencies. To complicate the problem, 60 percent of these workers were undertrained.
Recognizing a need to improve both the quality and quantity of the profession, Rutgers began to offer courses in social work. In the ensuing decades, coursework expanded into a program that grew exponentially. In 1954, the state Legislature established the School of Social Work, the first in the state.
In its first 50 years, the school has graduated about 8,000 students, many of whom have remained in New Jersey providing counseling to clients struggling to overcome family crises, unemployment, a death in the family, or simply the transition to old age.
Mary Edna Davidson, dean of the School of Social Work at Rutgers, considers social workers the first line of defense against many of society’s ills. “A rising tide does not lift every boat,” says Davidson, the first woman and first African-American dean of the school. “Social workers are there for those who might be left behind.”
Today, the School of Social Work, located on the College Avenue campus, provides instruction to more than 700 undergraduate and graduate students and to 4,500 who are enrolled in continuing education and certification programs offered by the school and its Center for Children and Families. It is the only school in the state to offer a doctoral program in social work.
To prepare this generation of professionals, the school offers a Bachelor of Arts with a major in social work at on the Camden campus and at Livingston College in New Brunswick/Piscataway. The school offers the Master of Social Work (MSW) on all three campuses. Students also may pursue a dual Juris Doctor/Master of Social Work in conjunction with Rutgers’ schools of law in Newark and Camden, as well as a dual Master of Divinity/Master of Social Work in conjunction with the Princeton Theological Seminary. The Ph.D. program is offered in conjunction with the graduate school-New Brunswick.
Each year, about 500 students participate in the school’s field education program. The students gain valuable experience in the field and the state saves $4.6 million in labor costs. As part of the university’s mission to serve New Jersey, the school is engaged in a special initiative with the N.J. Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) to use federal funds to help support students enrolled in the master’s program. Students devote two years of service to DYFS for every year of financial support they receive. Nearly 200 students have taken part in the program. Many of them stay on with the agency after fulfilling their DYFS commitment.
One student who took advantage of the program is Michelle Barboza, a Piscataway resident who earned her bachelor’s degree in social work at Rutgers in 1989 and will receive her MSW in May.
A supervising family service specialist, Barboza works in the protective service unit of DYFS, an area responsible for monitoring families in need of continual supervision. The five caseworkers she manages monitor the welfare of 300 infants and children. Barboza credits her undergraduate education with providing key insights into how “family dynamics and systems work” – not only how members of a family interact with each other, but how they interact with the school system, the courts, the church and other structures.
Barboza’s first experience in the field came after she graduated from Rutgers and joined Covenant House in Manhattan as a family counselor. “I worked with adolescents who were living on the street, who were referred to as ‘runaways’ or ‘throwaways,’ Barboza says. “From that experience I became interested in family preservation, why families break down and why children wind up on the street.”
After a year at Covenant House, Barboza joined DYFS at its Suburban Essex district office in East Orange, processing new cases. Before long, the division promoted her to supervisor at the Union County West district office in Cranford. Later, when DYFS offered to underwrite the cost of her graduate degree with Title IV-E funds, she “jumped at the offer.”
After graduation, Barboza will return to DYFS, perhaps to become a case practice specialist in the foster care unit, overseeing the transition of children out of the welfare system. “These are people between the ages of 18 and 21 who have grown up in the system and need to transition into the community,” she says. “That’s very exciting work.”
The Rutgers School of Social Work, one of the top five of the largest such schools in America, commemorated its 50th anniversary this year with a dinner March 26 at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick. Taking note of the occasion, the N.J. Legislature approved a resolution congratulating the school on its first half-century of service. “The strength and success of the State of New Jersey, the vitality of its institutions of higher learning, and the effectiveness of our American society depend, in great measure, upon superb educational facilities such as the School of Social Work of Rutgers,” the resolution noted.