Abstract: Teaching Excellence through University Community Collaboration in Capacity Building (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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575P Teaching Excellence through University Community Collaboration in Capacity Building

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Wan-Yi Chen, Professor, West Chester University, West Chster, PA
Gwenelle O'Neal, Professor, West Chester University of Pennsylvania
Background and Purpose:

To date, less than 14% of social work field practicums in Graduate Social Work Department involve practice with organizations, communities, and policy analysis, a set of professional competencies including resource development, managing service programs and organizations, community outreach, policy analysis, and program evaluation, known collectively as “macro” practice. Despite the interest expressed by our student population in Philadelphia, there is currently limited capacity in community agencies to provide these learning opportunities. Under-resourced community agencies focused on direct service provision to clients may lack the staffing and time to design and oversee macro practice projects. Smaller advocacy-oriented organizations may focus on macro practice activities but lack the MSW staff person required to oversee a GSW student practicum. Students then lose venues for experiential learning of important professional competencies and opportunities to synthesize personal experiences, classroom theory, and professional practice. Tremblay and Hall (2014) report that community-university partnerships provide evidence that pooling resources, skills and creativity result in the co-construction of new knowledge.


An outreach effort to strengthen community-university partnerships was deployed via initiating a needs assessment survey on current macro practice and challenges among our field agencies in Philadelphia (from the recent 2 years) in fall 2019 (N=387). Sixty-seven field instructors participated in the survey. We used SPSS to analyze this survey data. This information has guided the development of discussion questions for two focus groups in the format of “community forums”. These community forums are planned to assist agencies to establish priorities regarding their areas of concerns, knowledge and skills needed for macro policy and community practice, while working with social work interns in the agency settings.


Survey results showed field instructors emphasized assistance needed from social work interns for community asset development (78.94%) and community education events for community practice (71.0%). For organizational practice, networking with other professional organizations (70.3%) and funders (69.23%) were identified as the prioritized areas. Voter registration (70%) was identified as the area needed assistance for policy and advocacy practice.

During the focus group sessions, community staff (of various professional disciplines) and students were engaged in conversations on how social work students may help agencies provide outreach to service users. Concerns about technical assistance needed for community agencies were discussed. Faculty provided resources relevant to survey results to facilitate the professional development of community staff and students. Mechanisms for future technical assistance were discussed.

Subsequent student forums were conducted on campus to help students incorporating agency input into their planning for their practicum experience.

Conclusions and Implications:

The process of project identification and design through the focus group method provided a unique “experiential learning” opportunity for students who join the community forums to observe and learn first-hand about engaging stakeholders in a macro social environment.

This project resulted in additional inquiries about taking social work interns from social service agencies that did not have any previous field affiliation with the MSW program. This community outreach effort from the MSW program has proven to be a crucial step toward program sustainability.