Experiential Social Work Program Seeking Students to Work with Aging Mississippians

… Sixty-five students to serve elderly in northeast Mississippi over next two years

OXFORD, Miss. – As more people live longer, the need for geriatric service providers is growing exponentially. Unfortunately, not enough social work students opt to practice in the field.


But this trend may be changing, thanks to a new experiential program established by faculty in the Department of Social Work at the University of Mississippi.

The Department of Social Work has been awarded a $3,876 grant through a partnership between the Council on Social Work Education Gero-Education Center and the John A. Hartford Foundation. Over the next two years, it will involve approximately 65 students in face-to-face contact with elderly residents in selected rural communities in northeast Mississippi.

“The purpose of the program is to develop sustainable curriculum and measure if the contact and activities result in changes in attitudes and decisions about selecting gerontology as a practice field,” said Susan Allen, associate professor of social work and lead faculty for the project. “The ultimate goal is to increase the numbers of social workers who choose the field.”

Students will interact with elderly residents in six classes on UM’s Tupelo campus. Activities include interviewing them to assess their needs and supports, and developing and conducting cognitive group activities with elderly residents in a long-term care facility. All students will be supervised and supported by Allen and three other faculty members serving as co-investigators on the project.

“At completion, we will evaluate the impact the activities had on students selecting gerontology as a field of practice,” said Jill Shaw, social work instructor. “The data will be added to the existing CSWE Gero-Ed Program data to assist the profession in meeting the need for social workers in the future.”

Although the partnership has addressed this need for several years, this will be the final funding cycle of this project, Allen said.

“One advantage our program has over similar programs elsewhere was our decision to serve the rural area around the Tupelo campus, where there are limited resources and social workers,” Allen said. “It was a competitive grant and only 10 were awarded in the U.S.”

Students have already begun to express interest in participating.

“I am excited about the continuation of this program because it addresses a population that is growing and is overlooked as a target group who need intervention,” said Chrissy Wilburn of Mantachie. “The elderly population is going to be huge in the coming years due to the baby boomers reaching senior status. When students from the college participate in the program, whether or not they choose to work with this particular group, the older population still benefit because of the socialization.”

The Council on Social Work Education is a nonprofit national association representing more than 3,000 individual members, as well as graduate and undergraduate programs of professional social work education. The BSW Experiential Learning Program is a program of the CSWE Gero-Ed Center, which is funded by the John A. Hartford Foundation.

Founded in 1929, the John A. Hartford Foundation is a committed champion of training, research, and service system innovations that promote the health and independence of America’s older adults. For more information about the foundation and its programs, go to http://www.jhartfound.org/

For more information about the Department of Social Work, go to http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/socialwork/