May 9, 2013

Spencer James Zeiger: Social work education in Dalton: a source of pride

“Life’s most urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” — Martin Luther King Jr.

On Friday, Dalton State College will graduate the 100th student from its four-year BSW (Bachelor of Social Work) program. From our humble beginnings a decade ago, graduation day will truly be a reason to celebrate.

Knowing that DSC has enabled 100 students to enter the noble profession of social work, improving the quality of life for so many, is truly a source of pride for our community. By 2014, 140 will have graduated!

We are growing and making a difference. Our students are highly sought by local employers. Currently, 95 percent of our graduates are employed as professional social workers. Upon graduation, it is common for our students to receive more than one job offer. We are making a strong, positive impact in Dalton, Whitfield County, and throughout the state of Georgia.

What makes Dalton State’s social work program unique? There are more than 600 social work education programs throughout the United States. We are proud to be the only bilingual/bicultural social work education program in the country.

Our students, in the summer between their junior and senior years, participate in Dalton State’s only cultural and language immersion program in Latin America. To date, students have studied language and culture, living with host families, in Mexico, Puerto Rico and Costa Rica. Upon their return, having acquired a global perspective, they see life in a new and different way. They become, in effect, culturally competent, well prepared to work with Dalton’s uniquely diverse population (among Georgia’s 159 counties, Whitfield has by far the largest percentage of citizens from Latin America).

What do professional social workers do? We work to establish social and economic justice, prevent conditions that limit human rights, eliminate poverty and enhance the quality of life for all persons. Social workers empower people to make wise choices that will lead a better life. Through advocacy, education and linking those in need to resources, social workers assist and strengthen individuals, families and communities in securing optimal employment, housing and nutrition.

Where are social workers? They are employed in a wide variety of settings including schools, hospice, substance abuse treatment centers, domestic violence treatment facilities, hospitals, criminal justice agencies, services for children and families, services for military veterans and mental health. In fact, throughout the nation more social workers deliver mental health service than any other profession. Wherever we find poverty or substance abuse; wherever mental and physical health challenges limit people from realizing their true potential; and wherever we see social injustice and oppression, that’s where you’ll find social workers.

What do social workers value? You will find social workers to be passionate about their profession. It is a calling, the rewards of which go far beyond a salary. Social workers value the importance of human relationships. They believe everybody is entitled to be respected and live a life of dignity. They believe people have a right to determine their own future, and that all people possess strengths and talents. Social workers excel at teaching people to tap into their strengths, and to maximize their potential.

What does Dalton State’s social work program have to offer its students? It takes more than a good heart and a desire to help; to make a positive, lasting impact, a social worker must possess knowledge, skills and competencies. At Dalton State College, we provide our students with the tools they will need to become professional social workers. On behalf of our students, faculty, staff and administration, we are proud to honor the BSW class of 2013. Together, we will do no less than create a better world.

Graduates of our social work program at Dalton State College are making a difference — one life at a time!

Spencer James Zeiger is associate dean and professor of social work at Dalton State College.