Social Work Program at WWU to Celebrate 20th Anniversary

By Tara Boehl ’09

The William Woods University social work program is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its accreditation this month.

To recognize this milestone, WWU will host an event for community professionals and prospective social work students from 3 to 4:30 p.m. Friday (Oct. 10) in the Burton Business Building, room 006. The event will include refreshments, guest speakers and a faculty-student mixer.

The social work program has been fully accredited through the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) since 1988. This accreditation is important as it recognizes the program for meeting national standards. This academic standing affords WWU graduates eligibility to earn a master’s degree in social work in one year.

Social work is a profession that has dual roles—providing services to clients and advocacy for social justice. The social work program at William Woods has graduated more than 100 students and, currently, 26 students are enrolled.

Jane Bierdeman-Fike, director of the Fulton State Hospital’s Psychiatric Social Service Department from 1962 to 2000, was one of the founders of the social work program at William Woods. According to her, the program was created out of a need in the community.

“After coming to the Fulton State Hospital, one of the most formidable tasks was how to recruit and retain qualified and dedicated staff,” she said. “I thought I had a special obligation and opportunity to develop an undergraduate social work program at William Woods.”

Bierdeman-Fike said the development of the social work program took many years.

“The seeds of the program started much earlier than 1988,” she said. “I began communication with the William Woods sociology professor, Dr. Floyd Pollack, about 1964 or 1965 when he showed an interest in the Fulton State Hospital Social Service Department, the field of mental health, our patients, and the possibility of offering unique learning experiences to his students.”

She added, “Fortunately, the academic leaders at the then William Woods College viewed the development of a social work program very favorably. In fact, they ‘stole’ one of our best social work supervisors, Linda McCall, MSW.”

William Woods offered McCall a full-time instructor position, and “because of her abilities as a social worker and academic, she shortly was promoted to head the department of sociology. Ever since the early 80s, her goal was to achieve accreditation for the program from the Council on Social Work Education,” Bierdeman-Fike said.

To fulfill the CSWE requisite of having two full-time qualified graduate social workers, McCall recruited and hired Carol Fulkerson, MSW, another experienced practitioner.

Since the beginning, the social work program has worked closely with the surrounding community.

McCall was responsible for organizing an advisory committee composed of key staff and administrators within community agencies and service providers. The purpose was to link the curriculum content with real needs of the service systems and agencies in central Missouri, and give students the opportunity to apply their beginning skills under experienced supervision.

The advisory board is still in place today and continues to help students develop as professionals and build a networking system. It also assists them in preparation for job searches.

In each core foundation social work course, students are exposed to clients, agencies and communities in a variety of capacities through shadowing, field trips, service-learning, class projects, assignments and a 500-hour internship during the senior year.

Elizabeth Wilson, assistant professor and head of the social work program, considers the community ties one of the best educational tools the program has to offer students.

“One of the advantages of our program is that students complete a 500-hour senior internship. The surrounding area has many social service agencies and students get excellent job training and preparation for the future,” said Wilson.

“Also, the community benefits by employing knowledgeable and eager individuals to help within their agencies.”

Past students have completed their field placements in agencies focusing on adoption, child abuse and neglect, residential care, medical social work, criminal justice, juvenile justice, domestic violence, community action, poverty, substance abuse and mental health.

Jessica Tipton, a senior social work major, realizes that the internship plays a valuable part in her education.

“It’s great to learn in class through lectures, professor experience, books and assignments, but internships put all of that together in a job,” she said. “We don’t get paid with dollars, but we get paid with experience. In the future, when we are actually practicing, we have those experiences to fall back on.”

The William Woods social work faculty has more than 30 years of combined teaching experience and 26 years combined direct social work practice experience. The professors use this experience and knowledge to provide the most up-to-date information explaining social problems, interventions and research to students.

Bierdeman-Fike is impressed with the social work faculty.

“George Garner and Harriet Yelon, long-time faculty members, love their students, teach by example and communicate their deep devotion to their profession, their students and the program. They have given it a special continuity and enthusiasm through the years.”

She added, “We have also been fortunate in being able to hire highly qualified, experienced and dedicated social work administrators who are able to utilize the strengths of all involved in this endeavor.”

These individuals include Joanne Fulton, Jerrie Jacobs-Kenner and the current program director, Wilson.

The social work faculty also creates and organizes unique, yet needed, training that benefits both their students and the community. This summer, the social work faculty helped conduct three training programs.

In May, the National Organization of Victims Assistance (NOVA) came to campus to train crisis responders within Missouri. In July, Garner assisted the Family Court-Juvenile Division and Rainbow House in conducting a mock child abuse investigation training on campus. In August, the William Woods social work program partnered with the Missouri Department of Public Safety and Missouri Office of Prosecution Services to provide a three-day program through the Missouri Victim Services Academy.

“The opportunities of this program are endless,” said Krystal Kiderlen Witthaus, a social work graduate of William Woods, who is now a social worker at Fulton State Hospital.


William Woods University social work faculty past and present celebrate the 20th anniversary of program accreditation (left to right): George Garner, associate professor; Carol Fulkerson, one of the original faculty members; Elizabeth Wilson, director; Harriet Yelon, associate professor; Jane Bierdeman-Fike, founder of the program, and Jerrie Jacobs-Kenner, former director.