Every educator knows the value of learning outside the classroom. Lizz Davis, director of Union’s social work program, found she learned the most from her own experiences—both good and bad—and now she intentionally takes her students out of the classroom so they can do the same.
Davis spent seven years stationed at Ft. Riley Army base as a social worker in the United States Public Health Service—a commissioned service branch. “I transitioned to the Army National Guard when I moved to Lincoln,” she said. “I decided when I finished my active duty service, I wanted to give back. Giving is a big part of social work.” She guest spoke to a few classes at Union, which ultimately led to an invitation to become part of the program.
Lizz takes her social work students in several classes into the field to illustrate the real world aspects of each unit they study. When studying the child welfare unit in the Intro to Social Work course, they travelled to Boys Town, a thriving organization in Omaha where kids with a range of academic, behavioral and educational issues receive care and guidance. Students were able to interview the head social worker and head psychologist, and learn more about child welfare as a possible career choice.
“I want to help them find a passion and a field they want to work in,” said Davis. I want to encourage them to explore questions like, ‘Do I want to work in the field or in a management situation?’ I really try to show them different opportunities.”
In the community involvement unit of the Social Work Practice III course, students participated in nearby Calvert Community Center’s after-school program and other activities for community members of all ages. They interviewed the director of the center and surveyed children and adults about what they enjoy and what needs improvement. Students learned how to write survey questions to gather relevant information, and they ultimately presented their findings to the neighborhood association in charge of the center.
“I was able to experience working on my own and seeing the results,” said Noemi Flores, a December 2017 graduate with a degree in social work. “That makes me feel a lot better prepared to do this as a job in the future.”
“We were able to engage in the community and get that hands-on experience,” said senior Bailey
Dehning. “I enjoy being able to interact with people, not just books. I was able to learn a lot just doing research and talking to people.”
While helping students expand their view of social work, Davis uses other opportunities to help students explore and expand their comfort zone. “I put students in places where they might feel a little uncomfortable, but I will never put them in a place they would be unsafe,” said Davis about their trips to the local homeless shelter and other potentially new experiences. “We need to work on why we feel uncomfortable in situations, and be honest about those feelings. Does it come from my core values or is it misinformation I’ve received?”
Not only does Davis share her good experiences, but the bad ones as well—stories about mistakes she’s made and how they helped her grow, because she believes “everything is a teaching opportunity.”
For Dehning, these experiences will have a lasting effect on her career. “I don’t remember many of the specifics about the assignments I did in class, but I will remember our work in the community center for years to come.”
By Maren Miller, student writer