School of Social Work
UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA, RENO EXTENSION
Despite challenging times, the School of Social Work continues to see success
By Sara East ’09 and Jillian Szewczak ’13
Undoubtedly, COVID-19 has left a lasting mark on higher education. Despite the challenges of the past year, the School of Social Work continues to grow and respond to the workforce needs of the state of Nevada and beyond.
As of Spring 2021, the SSW has experienced its highest enrollment in history with nearly 800 students — an increase of 433% over the past four years. Meeting the workforce needs of the state of Nevada is just one of Dean Shadi Martin’s goals since joining the SSW in 2018. Dean Martin has led the school through numerous accomplishments that positioned the SSW for continuous growth despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.
Under Martin’s leadership, the school achieved its long-awaited goal of becoming the first independent, stand-alone school of social work in the state. Martin was named the founding dean and the first woman of color to serve as an academic dean at the University. The SSW developed its new vision and mission around leadership, social justice and social work values. “I believe social workers are uniquely equipped to take on leadership roles because of our professional values and ethics,” said Martin. “The desire to become a leader is not self-serving; it is an obligation to ensure the voices of marginalized populations are heard. I want our students to understand they owe it to their constituents to become leaders. They need to know they are the change agents; they will be the leaders.”
The SSW expanded educational opportunities to rural areas by developing 3+1 bachelor’s degree programs in partnership with community colleges, which allow students to complete the equivalent of the first three years of academic study through a community college and their final year through the University. These partnerships have enhanced educational access to low-income students, students of color and working adults in rural areas of Nevada.
The school’s Title IV-E child welfare training grant provides training to the child welfare workforce in northern Nevada in addition to stipends for students interested in child welfare.
Field practicum, which is a crucial part of the curriculum, allows students to receive real-life experience with community organizations and public agencies. In 2020, the school placed 361 students in the field.
The SSW added 13 new faculty and staff who represent racial and ethnic minorities, military-affiliated populations, people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ identities and older adults. The school also hired its first associate dean, Lillian Wichinsky. In the coming years, the faculty will move into a newly remodeled building on campus to support the school’s continued growth.
In the past two years, the SSW has enhanced community engagement by establishing its first community and student advisory board as well as an alumni chapter. Growing the philanthropic support for the school will be critical to its continued success. In particular, the SSW seeks to increase opportunities and scholarship support for first-generation and underrepresented students.
With the growth, the SSW remains passionately student centered with faculty who are known for their openness and engagement with students. The school is keenly aware of the sacrifices students and their families make for their education, and is committed to assuring they receive the best quality education worthy of their investment.
The resiliency of the SSW is critical to help meet the growing mental health and social service needs of the community and serve families who are in desperate need of the skills, services and advocacy that social workers provide.
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