Interview with Alison Arendt, MSW, LCSW - BSW Program Chair for the School of Social Work at Aurora University
About Alison Arendt, MSW, LCSW: Alison Arendt, MSW, LCSW is the BSW Program Chair at Aurora University’s (AU) School of Social Work. As Chair, she manages student recruitment, admissions, and advising, and also oversees curriculum development and quality assurance in the program. In addition, Ms. Arendt teaches courses in both clinical social work and community social work.
In addition to her teaching and administrative responsibilities at Aurora University, Ms. Arendt manages her own private practice, where the focuses on supporting clients with LGBTQ+ presentations, as well as individuals struggling with anxiety and depression in adolescence and adulthood. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] May we have an overview of Aurora University’s Online Bachelor of Social Work program? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students for a wide variety of roles in social work and social welfare?
[Ms. Arendt] The BSW program is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE). There are 44 required credits in the major, each course can be completed in the online format, and each course is aligned with our face to face BSW courses. Students completing the BSW Online program are prepared as generalist social workers and can use their knowledge and skills in a wide variety of service locations (shelters, after school programs, advocacy groups, substance abuse treatment programs, senior services programs, etc.). The core curriculum ranges in scope from Social Work Practice with Individuals, Groups, Families, Communities, and Organizations, Social Welfare Policy, Social Work Research, Human Behavior in the Social Environment and Field Instruction. We offer a variety of social work electives, including Vulnerable Children and Families, Effects of Trauma on Children, Drugs and Human Behavior, Expressive Therapies, Disability and Law, and Violence in America.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] What online technologies does Aurora University’s Online Bachelor of Social Work use to facilitate interactions between students and faculty, as well as between classmates in and outside of courses?
[Ms. Arendt] The BSW Online program is facilitated using Moodle for AU Online. Moodle is the key resource for students to use to view the design of each course in which they enroll. Within Moodle, students will find course description, syllabus, lessons, activities, discussions, exams, and assignments. The BSW Online students also use their AU email frequently, as well as Zoom for teleconferencing.
Students are not required to visit the Aurora University campus in order to fulfill degree requirements. However, online students are welcome to use on-campus services like the library (also highly useable online), tutoring, and other services. Many online courses utilize open education resources (free web-based sources) in place of or in alignment with required text books.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] Aurora University also offers BSW programs on its main campus and at the AU Woodstock Center. May we have more information on the campus-based programs and how they are different from the online program?
[Ms. Arendt] The AU BSW program is offered at the main campus and the George Williams campus for full-time students. This format requires students to take 12-16 hours of coursework each semester, where classes meet 2-3 times each week, most often during daytime hours.
The Woodstock campus also has BSW programming, which is designed for part-time students in a hybrid format. This program is designed for adult-degree-completion students, with evening classes and online learning features in each course. This program is ideal for the working adult student who has evening availability for coursework.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] All students of Aurora University’s Bachelor of Social Work programs must complete a foundational field practicum. What does this practicum entail, and how does the field placement process work? Is the process the same or different for students in the campus-based programs versus the online program?
[Ms. Arendt] The BSW field instruction program consists of two consecutive semesters of field internship during the final year of the program. Students search for their field placement, with support of the field coordinator, in the semester prior to beginning the 450 required field hours (approx. 15 hours each week). Students create resumes, identify social service agency sites to contact, make contact with the sites, interview with 2-3 placements and select a placement that is offered to them.
A strong field experience is one that offers a distinctive learning experience with students working with clients or client groups actively. Each field experience should also provide supervision by an experienced worker in the agency. Supervision within the agency setting is typically a one time a week meeting between the student and their supervisor to discuss learning the student is engaged in at the agency setting.
Students also have support from their field liaison while they are in field instruction class. This support is designed to help students make meaning of their experiences, resolve concerns or conflicts, and meet learning goals. Liaison support for BSW students begins in the field instruction class, wherein the instructor of the course learns about the students’ experiences in field placement and advises them throughout their practicum tenure in conjunction with their field supervisors. The instructor serves as liaison and visits students and their supervisors at their agency to learn more about each student’s learning experience. If a concern or conflict arises, the instructor/liaison is the main facilitator of remediation for the placement and student.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] Do you have any advice for students in terms of completing their field education? What are common challenges students experience during their placements, and what support systems does Aurora University put in place to assist students and their practicum supervisors during their field education experience?
[Ms. Arendt] Students are advised to seek out field placements with populations that interest them and in agency settings that can support their learning as a student. This means that students can ask questions about the role of the intern, supervision style of the supervisor, and general ways to assist the agency in accomplishing its mission, all while in the interview.
Students are evaluated at the conclusion of each semester by the supervisor from the field agency. The criteria for evaluation are fully reflective of social work education competencies designed by the Council on Social Work Education.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] How do faculty members of Aurora University’s Bachelor of Social Work program mentor students throughout their enrollment? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities, and outside of faculty what other support structures are in place to help students?
[Ms. Arendt] Students may make connections with faculty and inquire about graduate school, career interest, research, or internship options. Faculty are often eager to assist students with these questions. While there is a formal junior mentoring program for on-campus students, online students could request individual communication with online instructors in order to inquire about the question areas listed.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] For students who are interested in Aurora University’s Bachelor of Social Work, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?
[Ms. Arendt] The BSW Online program application is reviewed by the BSW administration in order for a student to be enrolled in the program. Students must apply to the University first, then to the BSW program. The BSW application review includes a transcript review, so the university application must be complete first. Students should apply when they meet the criterial for acceptance. These criteria include: cumulative GPA of 2.5 or better, completion of 60 undergraduate credits, completion of three general education pre-requisites (PSY 1100, SOC 1100, PSC 1300) as well as a completed admission essay and a completed background check at the time of admission.
Students writing essay responses that are at least a paragraph in length for each prompt is helpful in letting the reviewer better understand the student and their readiness for the program.
[MasterofSocialWork.com] What makes Aurora University’s Bachelor of Social Work unique and a particularly strong BSW option for students? How does this program prepare students for diverse and impactful careers in generalist social work practice across a wide range of settings?
[Ms. Arendt] Students gain professional knowledge and skills in this program. All of the faculty in the School of Social Work practice social work professionally and can easily help students connect classroom learning to real scenarios in the field. Social Work faculty are student-centered and seek to assist students with their diverse learning needs. This knowledge and these skills can be used in a variety of social service settings upon completion of the program. Our students create strong relationships with their field agencies, and are frequently offered employment at the conclusion of their field work. Overall, our students accomplish a high degree of academic achievement in our program, and are distinctively prepared to enter graduate social work programs and develop even stronger skills and abilities.
Thank you, Ms. Arendt, for your excellent insight into Aurora University’s Bachelor of Social Work program!