Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023

This is the fourth article in a recurring column giving students an inside look at what’s happening in each College at WCU, enabling them to better develop their education plans, course selections, and career tracks.

With 91.6% of alumni employed in the education field, recognition as one of the top 100 Master’s in Social Work Programs across the country and a high retention rate, the College of Education and Social Work focuses on student success by providing affordable and quality programs to students that will shape the future of those professional fields.

Dr. Kenneth Witmer, dean of the College of Education and Social Work (CESW), contributes these favorable credits to the commitment students and faculty have towards their professions. “Heads, hands and hearts,” he says, are the three things students and faculty need. “For our college, the heads is knowledge. You have to know the facts, the concepts and the materials. And then the hands – you have to be able to actually do the work, to teach, to be a good social worker, to know how to do it. But what I think you really need in our college is to have that heart and passion to be in the service of others.”

About three years ago, the college of Education merged with social work to reorganize its departments and programs. With most of the College’s majors requiring certifications or licensures and all programs accredited by an external agency, grouping the departments under one roof allowed the College to ensure regulations and policies of the institution and respective professional fields were being met. Since then, the College has continued to experience a rapid growth in student enrollment, which has led to the need for more faculty and the creation of a new department to meet demands.

The CESW is introducing a secondary education department that will bring together previously dispersed content area experts and prepare students for teaching in high levels of middle and high school. Most of the experts that will make up the department are already faculty members at WCU. The idea behind the new department is that there will be a common complement of preparation so that when students go to teach in high schools, they will be prepared to teach with colleagues in all fields, not just from their content area. The program will officially launch on July 1 t and incoming students will be able to begin enrolling in courses as of the fall semester. Students currently studying secondary education will seamlessly be transitioned into the new department.

In addition to a STEM educator and science related expert for the new secondary education department, the CESW will also be hiring new faculty in the literacy, educational foundations and policy studies, early and middle grades and special education departments.

Across the college’s eight departments, Witmer identified the social work and special education programs as growing at the fastest rates. The CESW’s bachelor and master programs in social work have seen significant growth due to their representation of the PASSHE system in Philadelphia. Special education is also expanding due to a change in certifications by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Instead of licenses being split between K-8 and 7-12, students can now get an actual degree in special education with the new K-12 certification.

Due to its high need and growth, the CESW is creating opportunities for students to partner with local schools in a special education residency program. The program, in partnership with the Chester County Intermediate Unit, will require students to attend WCU for three years before becoming special education residents in a local school where they will actually work to earn their last year of credit.

With a comprehensive institution like WCU, Witmer looks to and supports the CESW faculty in doing the type of research that helps improve the practice. As technology becomes infiltrated everywhere, the world of education is bound to change. From how faculty teach to how students learn, education is evolving. Witmer recently attended a conference where he was exposed to real technology that will soon shape education. “I was down looking at the advertising booths and there was this program that you could read into the computer and based on how you read, the computer determined how many mistakes or the speed with which you read and then would make the next paragraph more or less difficult – it’s like automatic individual instruction.”

The movement towards teaching with technology and the new things that can be done with technology has led the CESW to create the Mobile Rams Initiative. The Mobile Rams Initiative will ensure students in both education and social work are prepared for working in the field and have the highest level in knowledge of how to use technology to make their practice the best that it can be.

The initiative, which will be implemented in three phases, will begin with prepping CESW faculty on how to use and implement iPad Pro’s into lessons. Phase two will take a more one-on-one approach of getting students, particularly those who will be teachers, prepared for teaching with the enhanced learning technology. The CESW hopes to roll out phase three during the 2019-2020 calendar year, which will involve all students in education departments having a laptop to use that connects with everyone in the college.

In addition to the Mobile Rams Initiative, the CESW is implementing new classroom set ups to conduct research on not only how technology is changing teaching, but also how environments change what students do and affect interactions. Faculty are taking students to these classrooms which are set up in one of two ways. The first, called an active learning lab, is set up with tables in groups of four with technology available for each group. What makes the room actually interactive is the idea that each group can send information to the other groups to view on their monitors. The second classroom is called a casual learning café. These spaces have soft furniture and while they do have the availability for technology, they are meant to be more of a conversational, sporadic discussion kind of atmosphere.

Aside from physical advancements in learning, the CESW also offers accelerated programs and international experiences for students. Their accelerated programs are offered in both social work and education, where students can take graduate level courses while being an undergraduate. Since student teaching in Pennsylvania only needs half completion in-state, the College offers students opportunities to travel to the Bahamas and Ireland to finish their second halves of student teaching. Social work also has international opportunities with Germany and the Dominican Republic.

For both education and social work, the College’s main goal is to get students out in their professional environments as early as possible. Dr. Witmer stated, “We feel it’s really important to get that early on so that people can make career choices before they get so far along that they don’t have a choice but to finish that and their hearts go in another direction.”

Students and faculty in the CESW are enthused and motivated individuals committed to their respective professions. To see the work education and social work students have produced, the College hosts a Critical Theory Conference, open houses and poster sessions open to the community.

Danielle Venino is a fourth-year majoring in communication studies with minors in journalism and media and culture.

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