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Adding Resources to the Social Worker’s Toolkit: More Innovations in the School of Social Work

As the School of Social Work team explores additional resources that will enhance the student experience and better prepare social workers for the work world, the course curriculum continues to expand with more innovative programs. Evaluation in Social Work, Simulated Clients and the Haiti project are three of these endeavors.


A required course—Evaluation in Social Work— provides an opportunity for students to combine fi eld work with classroom work. Lecturer Sue Ann Savas developed the course approach that lays the foundation for developing and conducting an evaluation, a valuable resource all social workers will need at some point in their career.

“No matter what you do in social work, you will need evaluation tools. This is the beginning of creating confi dence for our students—we are demystifying the evaluation process,” Savas said.

During the fi rst two lectures, students obtain the building blocks to set up and implement evaluations, and by the third lecture, they are ready to roll up their sleeves and get into the fi eld with their client agency.

Students—in groups of three to four—choose from a list of 15 to 20 community-based organizations (clients) that have requested help from the School of Social Work. Th ese clients have included youth programs, agencies serving those with mental health issues, programs for older adults, and others who don’t have the resources to implement an evaluation.

Th roughout the semester, the student teams will conduct about three or four onsite consultations with the agency during which they will develop and implement an evaluation process refl ective of the agency’s needs, which could be client satisfaction, program outcomes or other aspects of their program impact.

Recent projects include helping a middle school set up an anti-bullying program and evaluating its eff ectiveness; and assisting a homeless adults’ agency with an evaluation of its outcomes. 

“Incorporating fi eld work into this course makes it much more relevant to our students,” Savas fi nds. “Students see how this work relates to them and their own practice.

“Times have changed,” she adds. “Organizations need to become more accountable and more outcome-based. Th ey need to know if their programs are working and producing necessary outcomes. Often, they do not have the internal expertise, fi nancial resources or capacity to develop their own evaluation systems. 

“Our goal is to leave these agencies with the foundation to build their own internal capacity to conduct evaluations (accountability skills).

“No matter what you do in social work, you will need evaluation tools. Th is is the beginning of creating confi dence for our students—we are demystifying the evaluation process.

“By the end of the course, most students will understand the importance of this tool as they transition into their career.” 


As students prepare for their social work career, they need more learning time in the fi eld and the classroom simultaneously, Professor Rich Tolman finds.

The job market for social workers without a master’s degree is dwindling, consequently students are entering the MSW program sooner and with less experience. 

“Our challenge as instructors is to intensify the curriculum and introduce course work sooner to give students more skill practice time so they will be better prepared for their fi eld placements,” Tolman explains.

To achieve that outcome, instructors incorporated components from other classes into a new skills laboratory course.

These additional sections include: 

  • How to use the DSM4R diagnostic tool in identifying mental health disorders
  • More intensive work on practice models—particularly with clients who have mental health disorders 
  • Simulated client practice—students will work with advanced students (in Scott Weissman’s seminar on client simulation and role play) who simulate clients with mental health disorders. Th is gives them a chance to practice early on simulated client interactions before they work with real clients in the fi eld. 

“Our goal is to provide them with these resources early on in the MSW program so they can continue to practice them throughout their degree completion,” Tolman adds.


Th e University of Michigan School of Social Work is collaborating with Haitian social workers to add a bachelor’s level institute of social work in the Port-auPrince area of Haiti. 

A mix of U-M social work alumni, doctoral students and faculty—led by Athena Kolbe—is working in Haiti to help develop the beginnings of this program. 

The concept began in 2008 when a working group of Haitian service providers, along with U-M doctoral students, began identifying information that would be relevant to the Haitian government and social welfare professionals in the areas of health, mental health, security provision, community development and education. 

Through this process, the working group saw that a school of social work was needed in Haiti, one that could create a new generation of professional, highly skilled social workers. 

In 2009 a few members of the working group formulated a plan to create the Institute of Social Work and Social Science, an accredited degree-granting educational institution in Port-au-Prince. Th e institute would focus on BSW education with an emphasis on developing and disseminating knowledge about culturally appropriate social work practice.

A goal was set to open the school in 2010, but the earthquake backed up plans signifi - cantly. About 75 percent of the educational infrastructure in Haiti was destroyed. 

Now, the goal is for the fi rst full time cohort to begin in January 2012. 

“The students are very excited about the opportunity to receive quality social work education and build relationships with students at U-M,” Kolbe finds.

“Our hope is to build stronger ties between the two institutions so that students and faculty consider coming to Haiti to work and conduct research. We have a lot to learn from our Haitian colleagues who have found ways to integrate social work practice with local cultural and religious practices in ways that are quite effective,” Kolbe has learned.

“At the same time there are serious gaps in social work knowledge in Haiti that can be addressed. Th at is the role of the Institute of Social Work and Social Science, so that Haitian social workers have the same access to information and skill development that we do at U-M.” 

Cindy Ficorelli, U-M alumna and freelance writer 

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