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FEATURE

The Futures of Social W o r k Education at Mi chi gan Building o n o u r Strength Celebrating 90 years of leadership and looking toward its centennial, the School of Social Work is forging a dynamic curriculum and a research and service agenda that is both national and global in its vision and cross-disciplinary in its commitment to problem solving. “I think there are large issues that our School is particularly poised to take on, both because of our size and strength and because we are located at an intellectually rich research university,” Dean Laura Lein states. “Social work is becoming more world-focused, both as a profession and in its research on social problems. So our challenge is: how do we become a more globalized educational institution ourselves? How do we sustain and expand our cross-professional training approaches to address the kinds of problems and social causes that loom large in our future? How do we project our research forward to address the new issues of this tumultuous economic and political period?” The School is looking outward as well as inward as it conducts a year-long self-assessment, looking at such diverse topics as enrollment, integration of practice and research, planning for future faculty expertise, use of emerging technologies, and the role of field instruction. “As a premiere leadership training program, the U-M SSW has a responsibility to develop knowledge as well as impart and apply knowledge,” declares Professor John Tropman, a member of the Strategic Thinking Task Group. “We have a special responsi-

4 · University of Michigan School of Social Work

bility to initiate and test new ideas and applications. Some of the ideas may fail, but we can afford to pay that price. These initiatives continue to bring innovations in professional education, which have long been a U-M SSW hallmark.” Training tomorrow’s MSWs

Planning for the future of social work education is a three-pronged process in Lein’s view: identify future challenges, address research towards them, and train practitioners to engage with them. “Homelessness and unemployment are examples. Another focal point is the traumas caused by floods, earthquakes, and economic upheavals such as factory closings and how they affect individuals and communities,” she explains. Lein also cites the impact of incarceration, not only on those who are incarcerated but also on their families and communities. Social work needs to engage more actively in the design of alternatives to the current prison system and in remedial work needed to repair the damage to those affected, she contends. “More broadly, health itself has become a dominant force in the social service economy. The U-M, with its extensive hospital and health care system, presents us with a phenomenal setting in which social workers can access cross-professional training around all aspects of disease prevention, health promotion, and the integration of approaches to mental and physical health.” Social workers make up the majority of professionals providing one-on-one mental health counseling, Tropman points out. The School must prepare them to address issues that did not exist 20 years ago. For example, medical social workers are helping patients decide among different treatment options, such as lumpectomy versus mastectomy for breast cancer,

Ongoing 2011 Winter/Spring  

Published biannually by the University of Michigan School of Social Work.