School of Social Work Students, Faculty Participate in 2012 Advocacy Day
Dozens of students from the School of Social Work (SSW) traveled to Annapolis on March 7 to gain experience in advocacy, meeting with lawmakers on behalf of the University of Maryland . The small groups of students and faculty urged support of the governor's budget and retention of graduate and professional scholarships.
They also informed senators, delegates, and their staff members of key facts about the School, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Of the nearly 1,000 students who are currently pursuing a Master's Degree in Social Work, about 700 contribute to the well-being of Marylanders through placements as interns. Collectively, they perform 10,000 hours of service a week at work sites in Maryland in specializations such as aging, families and children, and mental health. Their public service work is valued at nearly $8 million a year.
"You're not only ambassadors for the School of Social Work but also ambassadors for the University," President Jay A. Perman, MD, told the students and faculty members who gathered at the outset of 2012 Advocacy Day. He spoke of the need for an interdisciplinary outlook, referring to the interprofessional education that takes place in the weekly President's Clinic. "When I see patients in my role as a physician on Tuesday afternoons, social work faculty and social work students are always a part."
Students were asked to share their own aspirations and circumstances as they urged members of the General Assembly to support the Loan Assistance Repayment Program, which provides for the forgiveness of loans made to University graduates who work in the public sector.
"We know it has an impact on your ability and the ability of other members of our campus community to attend graduate school," said Richard P. Barth, PhD, MSW, dean of the SSW.
"We bring students from Maryland and all over the country," he said, speaking of the School. "Most of them stay in Maryland and continue to provide care and services in a variety of areas that are critical to the citizens of Maryland."
Of more than 12,000 alumni of the School, about two-thirds currently live and work in Maryland.
More broadly, Barth suggested advocacy of state funding that helps vulnerable members of the public. "We really hope that revenues can be found to support existing Medicaid programs and to move forward in health care reform," Barth said.
Delegate Melony Griffith, MSW, who represents Prince George's County, noted that she serves on the Appropriations Committee at a time of diminished revenues. "So you will hear in the news, you'll hear in the hallways, how we're going to have to address the budget shortfall."
Griffith said the stance that she takes on behalf of her constituents sometimes runs counter to the rest of her county's delegation, as was the case with her opposition to a proposed "plastic-bag tax" to raise 5 cents per bag to help clean up waterways. She voiced a strong opinion that the cost would be a hardship for poor families. She lost that battle, she said.
"Every day brings a new bill, a new budget item, a new policy issue," said Griffith, telling the group that her training as a clinical social worker has been invaluable in her duties as a legislator.
Students and faculty were led by Michael Reisch, PhD, MSW, MA, who organized the effort in collaboration with the University's Office of Government and Community Affairs. Reisch, who is the Daniel Thursz Distinguished Professor of Social Justice at the SSW, had prepared students for their advocacy and debriefed them at the conclusion of the visit to Annapolis on the legislative process and their new insights in policymaking.