By Cheryl Toomey, University Relations Graduate Assistant
Social Work faculty at UTC may be few, but they are mighty. Dr. Michael Sherr, the Department Head and commissioner on the Council on Social Work Education, is responsible for policy curriculum instruction for the country. Associate Professor Dr. Amy Doolittle has been appointed chairperson for the Tennessee Social Work Education Association (TSWEA), a group dedicated to uniting social work educators across Tennessee with the goal of providing quality education across the state.
“Just in our UTC department of five faculty, we have a lot of influence on what the curriculum looks like at the state and national level,” says Sherr. “It’s incredibly important that UTC be a part of things like this because that’s where there is a shaping of what happens at the local level and the state level and what happens in different courses,” says Sherr.
Doolittle will chair the TSWEA for three years. After a period of inactivity, the TSWEA is undergoing a reconstruction. Doolittle sees it as a time for restructuring and growth—a time for members to set goals, learn and grow in their educational experiences.
“It is a testament to Dr. Doolittle and to our department in our interaction with faculty from around the state that she was elected to this position. It’s a testament to Dr. Doolittle that her colleagues thought well enough of her and what we do that she was elected to the chair,” says Sherr.
Undergraduates engaged in the community
UTC social work students begin their degrees by undertaking a thirty hour volunteer experience. Seniors complete four hundred hours as interns in the field. All of their course assignments and all their research projects are tied to what they do in the field.
“While our students are getting an education, they are getting the experience of serving and working in these settings. They provide support and volunteer help to these organizations. We want our work to make a difference. Our job is not just to teach people how to be social workers, it’s also contributing to Chattanooga to make it a great place to live,” says Sherr.
Social work majors intern at local agencies such as Bridge Refuge Service, Younger and Wiser, Hamilton County Department of Education, Chattanooga Housing, and the Salvation Army.
“Social work is one of the fields where UTC tangibly engages with the metropolitan area. We help all kinds of folks. That’s why a social work program is so important to a university like UTC. Our focus is local to global – we think about how we can enhance the wellbeing of individuals, families, groups, and communities. A larger program might focus their vision on a global scale, but for us it starts with Chattanooga, with the community right here. Then we take what we learn there out into the world,” says Sherr.
A new journal started in the social work department, based on a grant by the Maclellan foundation, will focus on adolescent and family health. The first issue is scheduled for release in January. This journal is another example of how the department emphasizes daily life and enhanced social functioning.
“One of our main focuses and goals is to help a person improve in their ability to function in their daily life and to enhance their social functioning in their daily life,” said Doolittle. “We need to be able to respond to what’s going on in their community and their environment, looking at them in the context of their environment.”