Monthly Series Engages Students, New Social Workers

By Alison Laurio

Managing student debt; concerns about risk and liability; how to begin a job search; what is a social work license, and why is or isn’t it important?; and landing your dream social work job are topics many social work students and recent graduates are eager to find out more about.

Now they can, thanks to a free program conceived, launched and directed by NASW Michigan Chapter Executive Director Duane Breijak. Numerous NASW chapters are involved in the program, which the NASW national office also supports.

Register for upcoming student events and watch replays of past programs for free.student-series-960

Breijak said he’s been involved with NASW for more than 10 years and had noticed the lack of an ongoing informational program for students and graduates entering the field. He saw the need for a continuing, nationwide program that focuses on educational achievements and networking.

“The idea came out of some national conversations we had been having for a couple of years,” Breijak said. He began working on it and launched the NASW Student Event Series in July 2021.

First-year topics included: “Hot Topics in Field Education”; “All Social Work is Macro Social Work”; and “Exploring Non-Traditional Career Paths.”

The webinars are popular, with 250 to 500 people usually attending, Breijak said, adding that the largest had 2,500 students.

“The three biggest topics have been on the licensing exam and what you need to know, how to find a job in a virtual environment setting, and the August program ‘Managing Social Work Student Debt: What You Need to Know in 2022,’” Breijak said. “Liability is kind of a less sexy topic, and we still had more than 300 register from all over the country.”

“In April, we had the opportunity to hear different voices from all across the country,” he said. That program, held April 21, was “What is a Social Work License and Why or Why Not is it Important?” It featured three panelists who Breijak invited: Chapter Executive Directors Debra A. Riggs, NASW-Virginia; Leanne Rupp, NASW-Colorado; and Joel L. Rubin, NASW-Illinois.

Riggs said she always is interested in meeting, talking with, and working with students, “because they are essential to the future of the association.”

When the student series was proposed, “I was all for it,” she said. “To do things like this engages students with the association, and they get a better understanding about it as well.”

And, Riggs said, they get to engage with other students from a variety of schools, backgrounds and states, “all on the same webinar.”

The experience “tells them they have a seat at the table, and they’re getting input and giving input,” she said. “It’s helpful and it’s valuable for them. Hopefully, it helps them see dues as an investment. It’s a pipeline issue, really. We need social workers so badly.”

She said all students are interested in knowing about licensing and its requirements, and with many courses online, which means less in-person time, they often do not receive information — or enough information — on the topic.

“Our times right now are so challenging,” Riggs said. Rupp also has knowledge and expertise about licensing in her state, which is one reason she was asked to participate in the program.

Duane’s sincere effort to pull in and engage other chapters expands coverage and exposure for other chapters,” she said. “I think my members are benefiting, and there are benefits for all members, whether they’re now at the start of their career or not.”

“The series creates space and opportunities to engage in the professional part of the community,” Rupp said. “The student series provides an opportunity to engage with students, and in the early part of their careers, social workers get an advantage from sharing the experiences of their pathway.”

The focus on relevant topics is beneficial for those engaged in those areas of the profession, she said, and it’s refreshing to hear about other issues we should be concerned about and have a level of support for those of us just beginning our careers.Those are things that often are overlooked, Rupp said. The discussions are timely and focused, and the topics are relevant to those in this stage of their career.

“This is a really relevant tool for us to market to career student social workers who want this experience, and it gives us a ‘practice what you preach’ when discussing the benefits. It’s well-received, and it’s needed.”As the second year begins, Breijak said (in August), “We’re starting year two, and this year they’re all on specific days and times.”

The programs are held the third Thursday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. ET. “It’s free for anybody to attend — all chapters and employees too,” he said. “I’m definitely excited how this program continues to expand and help students at the local level.”

“During COVID, students did not have many chances to network,” Breijak said. “Now they’re online together from all across the country. It’s another group of people who can utilize NASW membership. New members can hit the ground running.”

Breijak said many chapters are doing student-focused events, and he thinks it makes sense to do something collectively, within the membership coalition.

“We’re engaged with other chapters and continue to be open with other chapters,” he said. “We talk about what other topics we can use. Those are so many conversations that need to happen nationally, and there are so many ideas that come out of chapter executive directors and staff.”

“It allows us to connect with people nationally, and we’re making connections that were not there before, and everyone has the ability to share and the ability to be involved and participate.”

Sometimes topic ideas “develop organically,” and sometimes they come from what students in different states talk about, Breijak said. “We’re listening to what they’re feeling and needing and wanting, and what chapter staff are hearing, and we’re integrating that into what’s already scheduled.”

There always has been a need for connection, and students can connect with other students through this program, Breijak said.

“We need to hear from those folks, hear what they’re hearing about the practice and what they’re seeing in social work supervision programs and how we can work on some really big issues that affect our field,” he said. “It’s really a chance to get involved in a local chapter, and those conversations do bring change. Hopefully, the topics have been impactful for our students. We really hope this will help bring in and develop the next generation of social work leaders. It’s a very interesting time to be a social worker.

Read more articles from the NASW Social Work Advocates magazine here