GCU’s Service History Leads to Accreditation

Assistant Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dr. Kathleen Downey (left) and Director of Social Work, Dr. Cheryl McAuliffe, led efforts for accreditation of the Master of Social Work. (Photo by Ralph Freso).

Social workers are in demand in the United States with heightened concerns about mental health, violence, and fractured communities, especially in the past two years.

Grand Canyon University responded to the need. He launched his master’s program in social work 2 and a half years ago and in July received accreditation from the Advice on social work education.

“It’s a huge thing,” said the assistant dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences Dr Kathleen Downey CSWE accreditation. “This will help our program grow exponentially.”

Downey said the accreditation “will help our program grow exponentially.” (Photo by Ralph Freso).

Already, it has grown from 13 to more than 300 students in its online and cohort programs, addressing a vital public need.

For example, a survey of practitioners by the American Psychological Association in 2021 showed a surge in demand for treatment of anxiety and depression.

“With all the things that people have been through in the last couple of years – the increase in domestic violence, poverty, mental health issues – for our students to be able to graduate and be eligible to graduate of a permit is a big step for the program. But it also adds effective social workers to the profession,” Downey said.

Graduates of an accredited program are eligible to take their state’s licensing exams.

“COVID and the growing awareness of mental health has brought a lot of light to the helping professions. More people are getting into it now that it’s not a stigma anymore,” the director of social work said. Dr. Cheryl McAuliffe.

Social work is one of the fastest growing careers in the United States, according to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics. The profession is expected to grow 12% faster than average by 2030.

“You have to have it in-house because you’re not going to be a millionaire as a social worker,” McAuliffe said. “But if you ask 10 social workers, nine out of 10 love going to work every day. They love the work they do. They love their community. They love their customers.

The mission of social work is closely aligned with that of the University. And this was evidenced in the often arduous accreditation process.

“We had a team around that table every week, spending two hours going through the standards to create our curriculum,” Downey said from a conference room on the fifth floor of the Student Advising Services building. “Every school’s version is different. Ours tells the GCU story of community outreach and support. It’s part of what social work is, so it’s a perfect fit.

“Given the complexity of the issues facing so many people across the country, we look forward to the impact this will have on our communities in need and on the next generation of social workers.”

Dean of CHSS Dr Sherman Elliott

GCU’s curriculum differentiates itself by focusing on servant leadership.

“Social workers are servant leaders, and the program really focuses on developing and connecting with the community, identifying resources for a client, whether it is an individual, a community or a an organization,” Downey said.

This was the case with the very first evening cohort of students who began their studies more than two years ago and finished them in July.

“This group of five is very close,” McAuliffe said. “They connected and supported each other through the process and gave us great feedback on what works and what doesn’t.”

For David Congerit has meant continuing his career to help meet growing societal demand.

“Until that happens, we’re taking a small gamble,” said Conger, who earned her master’s degree in social work as part of the first cohort. “But we knew people like Kathleen Downey who worked really hard on it. For them, it wasn’t paperwork or checkboxes.

He celebrated not only his own graduation, but also the accreditation of the GCU.

Social work faculty and CHSS leaders recently celebrated with the first cohort graduating students who completed their Masters of Social Work.

“For me, (licensure) means I can supervise others and we can hire more interns. That’s a big deal for me,” said Conger, director of quality improvement for Southwest Network, a behavioral health provider at multiple valley clinics.

He got a promotion as his graduate studies were coming to an end. He said the work is important as staff shortages try to meet higher demand due to the pandemic and greater mental health awareness.

“In this job, I can help someone every day,” he said. “It’s never boring. But it is a job that is never finished.

Social workers focus on the whole person and the systems around them, whether at the macro level of policy or community organization or individual services. And GCU’s advanced generalist orientation provides students with knowledge and experience to work at all of these levels.

“Achieving accreditation through the CSWE is tremendous validation of all the meaningful work done by our graduate students, faculty, and especially Drs. Downey and McAuliffe and the social work leadership team” , said Dr. Sherman Elliott, Dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “Given the complexity of the issues facing so many people across the country, we look forward to the impact this will have on our communities in need and on the next generation of social workers.”

GCU’s social work programs are expanding at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, with the latter being nominated through its accreditation process earlier this year. Whether working adults in online graduate programs or on-campus undergraduate students, social work students want to give back to their communities — and some may have received support in their own lives and wanting to pay for it, McAuliffe said.

They have one thing in common.

“Social workers are passionate about helping people,” Downey said.

Grand Canyon University lead writer Mike Kilen can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-6764.

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