By Tara Boehl ’09
William Woods University social work students will soon be focusing their attention on the ever-growing elderly population. WWU has received a $5,000 grant from the Council on Social Work Education to infuse gerontological content into the undergraduate social work program.
William Woods was one of only 46 universities nationwide selected to receive this grant, funded by the John Hartford Institute.
Realizing how important gerontology is in the present culture, WWU social work professors understand the impact this grant can have.
“Right now in social work, there is a big push in gerontology,” said Harriet Yelon, associate professor of social work. “This aging population will soon be the largest in our country and there will be a need for services to assist those families that are the caretakers of their parents and to help the elderly population continue to thrive in a caring environment.”
She added, “This grant will allow us to break the myths associated with gerontology and bring understanding to the elderly and their needs.”
Participating faculty will develop innovative ways to embed and sustain gerontological social work content, working closely with national mentors, who will advise them on effective strategies to attain their goals.
Faculty will also attend annual meetings, where they will have opportunities to learn from their national peers and consult with their mentors and experts in gerontology.
Elizabeth Wilson, assistant professor and director of the social work program at WWU, also realizes that this grant will help social work students, no matter what their concentration is.
“Knowledge in gerontology is important when dealing with all aspects of social work,” she said. “If a student’s concentration is child welfare, there are a growing number of grandparents taking care of their grandchildren and they will have specific needs that the system will need to address.”
In addition, “Within the health and mental health fields, many people are living well into their 80s and this means that health care and mental health professionals will continue to have more elderly clients,” she said.
The baby boomer generation reaching retirement age creates special challenges.
“It is an active and dynamic group that brought about many changes to American society, including women’s rights, civil rights and gay rights,” Wilson pointed out. “This aging population will be very different and social workers need to be ready to provide quality services to this diverse group.”
To implement this new material, social work faculty are revising their syllabi and revamping their course projects to incorporate the new information. In the future, WWU hopes to offer certification, in addition to classes in the field of gerontology.