In the entrepreneurial spirit, Professor Marcie Pitt-Catsouphes and Professor Stephanie Berzin took leadership roles in the establishment of the GSSW macro program: Social Innovation and Leadership Program and Collaborative (SIL). more »
Let's be clear. An international field placement at the Graduate School of Social Work is not "study abroad." The three-month field placement, required as part of the Global Practice concentration, brings social work students face to face with some of the world's most devastating and intractable problems: genocide, extreme poverty, AIDS. The result is an experience that defies traditional notions of "fulfilling" and "educational." The only accurate description is "real."
The Global Practice concentration is the only one of its kind among MSW programs. The field placement selection process doesn't start with a location—Africa, South America, or Southeast Asia—it starts with the student.
"We really want to understand the students' skills and abilities and what they can offer," says Penny Alexander, former director of international and part-time programs at the GSSW. Penny works closely with partner organizations to match a student's competencies with projects that show the greatest need.
The students have no idea where they're going until a long-awaited email arrives in Alexander's inbox.
"As soon as we get the announcement and I tell the student, we immediately go to the map and start looking," says Alexander, whose students have recently been placed in countries like Sierra Leone, Vietnam and Malawi.
"The students do come back transformed," says Alexander. But often in ways they hadn't expected. Some return with an even deeper commitment to international social work, while others decide to reassess their career path.
Across the board, students are amazed at how well the school prepares them for the journey. In pre-departure coursework they learn solid skills—how to design, facilitate and manage a sustainable program; how to work with victims of trauma—that are applied on the job every day.
Despite the challenge of the work, the commitment of GSSW students is growing. In 2008, only five Global Practice students stayed abroad for the minimum required three months. Seven stayed six months, one for nine months and another stayed a full year.
Learn more about the International Program at the GSSW.