Interview with Alison Arendt, MSW, LCSW - MSW 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, where she will also serve as the MSW Program Chair beginning in July of 2020. As Program Chair, Ms. Arendt oversees student advising, and is also the point of contact for students who are interested in the program. She teaches courses in clinical social work and community social work, while also fulfilling an administrative role.

Aside from teaching and administration at AU, Ms. Arendt also works with clients at her private practice where the focus is on clients with LGBTQ+ presentations, as well as anxiety and depression in adolescents and adults. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Northern Illinois University and a Master of Social Work degree from Aurora University.

Interview Questions

[] May we have an overview of Aurora University’s Online Master of Social Work? What are the key learning outcomes for this program, and how does it prepare students for a wide variety of advanced social work roles in settings ranging from health care to forensic social work, leadership administration, school social work, and faith-based settings?

[Ms. Arendt] Aurora University’s Online MSW program prepares students for competent, ethical, clinical social work practice. We maintain accreditation by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and work to demonstrate student learning in specific generalist and specialist competency areas. These competency areas include Professional Identity, Ethical Practice, Research-Based Practice, Social Justice and Social Policy, Cultural Competence, and Engagement, Assessment, Intervention, and Evaluation of social work practice within social systems of all sizes and contexts. Our curriculum is designed to prepare students for a career in social work, utilizing field education to create hands-on learning moments. The MSW degree is a versatile degree, and students are prepared to work in a variety of social service settings with the knowledge and skills they acquire while completing the MSW at AU.

MSW students have a choice among our specialized curriculum tracks of School Social Work, Forensics, Health Care, Leadership Administration, Addictions, and Child Welfare while completing their degrees in the on-campus format. In the online format, the following tracks/curriculums are available: School Social Work, Post- MSW Professional Educator License (Post PEL), Faith Based Social Work, Forensic Social Work, Health Care, and Leadership Administration. Students have a great deal of flexibility to choose areas of social work in which they would like to focus. Students completing the 60-credit, traditional standing MSW could potentially complete two tracks because they have the opportunity to complete two field practicums.

[] What online technologies does Aurora University’s Online Master of Social Work use to facilitate interactions between students and faculty, as well as between classmates in and outside of courses?

[Ms. Arendt] The Aurora University Online MSW program is delivered using Moodle as the classroom management system. Students use Moodle to locate and interact with the course material throughout the program. Communication programs like Zoom and Adobe Connect are also used for meetings and group work. Classes are designed with an asynchronous format. However, there are synchronous learning moments in field instruction and other classes to augment learning. Full-time faculty host regular office hours during which students can ask questions about course concepts or assignments and receive academic and professional mentorship.

While our adjunct instructors do not have regular formal office hours, as they are not full-time faculty, they will notify students of times when they can have appointments or consultations. The field course instructor also uses Zoom to connect with students in a seminar setting, and to allow students to discuss with peers about their field practicum experiences. Students enrolled in the Online MSW program are not required to visit the AU campus during their degree program.

[] Aurora University also offers a campus-based MSW program. May we have more information on this program and how they are distinct from the online program?

[Ms. Arendt] The AU Online MSW program is designed so students can complete the entire degree through the online format. If a student had interest in taking both online and on-campus classes, they would be encouraged to enroll as an on-campus student, rather than an online student.

Students who are successful in the online program or the face-to-face program demonstrate an ability to engage with their learning consistently in all classes each week, and manage their time independently. The online students are often interested in the flexibility of the online course delivery as it works best for their home and work responsibilities.

Both online and face to face programs offer the advanced standing option to students who have completed a Bachelor of Social Work degree and meet the admission requirements for advanced standing. These students are enrolled in the final 30 specialization level credits and can complete the degree in one year.

[] Students of Aurora University’s traditional standing Master of Social Work must complete both a foundational field practicum and an advanced field practicum, while advanced standing students complete the advanced field practicum. What do these practicums entail, and how does the field placement process work for each? What kinds of faculty/peer support do students receive during their completion of their field education requirement?

[Ms. Arendt] The MSW program requires a generalist (first year) field placement of 450 hours and a specialist (second year) field placement of 600 hours to complete the field instruction requirements. Each field placement is organized by the student with the help of the field coordinator or Director of Field Instruction. Students are encouraged to seek field placements that fulfill the learning required within the designated time frame. Students are supported by a field liaison while completing their field hours.

Students in the generalist level field placement often are building generalist social work skills in engagement, assessment, intervention, and evaluation, as well as ethical decision making, cultural competence, and understanding research and policy within the context of their field placement. Students in the specialist level field placement are most often completing work in a curriculum track they are most interested in pursuing for their career. Students use the skills from the generalist placement and build upon them in a more advanced level experience. All field experiences are sought by students independently, with support of field program personnel. AU School of Social Work publishes a list of affiliated agencies and placements, and all students have access to this list.

Students are evaluated at the conclusion of each semester (field work extends across two semesters at each level) by the supervisor at their field placement. This evaluation process is the same for all students in field instruction, no matter the program option they choose (on campus or online). The evaluation consists of direct evaluation of social work competencies as outlined in the CSWE EPAS 2015.

Students are successful in field placements when they are careful in their selection process, interviewing with agencies they take time to learn about and selecting a placement that will truly suit their learning needs. Students who utilize supervision and the support of their field liaison are able to gain knowledge and skills in a supported way.

[] How do faculty members of Aurora University’s Master of Social Work mentor students throughout their enrollment? How can students make the most of these mentorship opportunities, and outside of faculty advising what other support structures are in place to help students?

[Ms. Arendt] Graduate students are encouraged to utilize mentorship from faculty and field supervisors. Where undergraduate students may experience a more formal mentorship process, graduate students may seek mentorship that suits their individual learning needs. Most often, mentorship for MSW students is focused on career options and licensure. In addition to faculty and field supervisor mentorship opportunities, we also encourage students to make use of the Library, the Academic Support Center, and the Disability Resource Office, all of which they can access remotely.

[] For students who are interested in Aurora University’s Master of Social Work, what advice do you have in terms of submitting a competitive application?

[Ms. Arendt] A strong application to the MSW program will include a personal statement that is written well (error free) and reflects the authentic traits of the applicant. Letters of recommendation can be from a variety of people who can speak to the applicant’s ability to manage a challenging learning experience, or can make wise decisions that ensure the safety of others, or can attest to the applicant’s commitment to increase social justice for vulnerable populations. The admissions requirements and the admissions process are the same for the online program and the face-to-face program.

[] What makes Aurora University’s Master of Social Work unique and a particularly strong graduate degree option for students? How does this program prepare students for advanced careers in social work practice, research, and leadership across a wide range of settings?

[Ms. Arendt] The MSW degree is the most versatile degree for people committed to a career designed to help others. The MSW degree from Aurora University is designed to prepare students for clinical social work in a variety of settings that promote the well-being of the most vulnerable populations. Graduates from the AU MSW program are prepared for clinical social work with individuals, families, groups, and communities in a variety of settings (schools, hospitals, police departments, shelters, even public libraries). A social worker with a MSW degree is often sought for leadership roles within social service agencies, and our AU degree program provides instruction on leadership as well as clinical intervention.

Aurora University has a strong reputation for preparing graduates for competent social work practice, and Illinois based social service agencies frequently seek out Aurora University MSW students for internships and MSW graduates for employment opportunities. This network is developing across the country as our online program draws more and more students from other states.

[] In addition to its MSW program, Aurora University also offers an online dual MSW-MBA program and an online dual MSW-MPA program. How does Aurora University’s MSW complement the coursework for the MBA and MPA programs, and who are the typical students who pursue these dual degree programs?

[Ms. Arendt] The MSW-MBA and MSW-MPA dual degree options are ideal for a student with a career goal of organizational or non-profit leadership (MSW-MBA) or in public policy (MSW-MPA). A dual degree prepares the graduate for careers in leading organizations, leading communities through political/public office, and affecting large numbers of marginalized populations. This dual degree program is delivered fully online.

The MSW-Master of Divinity (MDiv) is a dual degree option for students with a career goal in faith based social work. This is a unique degree option as it is delivered by Aurora University in the School of Social Work, the Chicago Theological Seminary, and the McCormick Theological Seminary Chicago. At this time, this program is offered to the on campus MSW students only.

Students with an interest in either dual degree program simply apply to the MSW program and state interest in the dual degree program. Their application is routed internally to the complementary program for admission.

Thank you, Ms. Arendt, for your excellent insight into Aurora University’s online Master of Social Work program!