In 2006, as the State of New Jersey began to implement important reforms to its child welfare system, Richard L. Edwards, then Dean of the School of Social Work, now Chancellor of Rutgers University – New Brunswick, and Ericka Deglau, currently the Director of the School of Social Work’s Intensive Weekend program, approached child welfare leadership with a novel idea. They proposed a program that would provide public child welfare employees with the opportunity to pursue their MSW while they continued their employment, enhancing their skills while continuing to contribute to the systemic changes underway at their agency. Inspired by a well-known program at Case Western Reserve University, a weekend model of study designed to make MSW study manageable for full time human services employees, Rutgers School of Social Work’s Intensive Weekend program would grow to become, in the coming years, a viable alternative for human services employees from a broad spectrum of practice fields to obtain their MSW. Without this flexible alternative, many students would just not have been able to complete this degree.
Courses in the Intensive Weekend program are sequential and meet one weekend a month, year round, supported by online activity in the interim weeks, which permits ongoing communication between professors and fellow students. Off campus locations throughout New Jersey, in Bordentown, Mays Landing, Jersey City, and Parsippany, expand accessibility to students beyond the University’s three traditional campuses. Students take classes as a cohort, creating a built in support system and creating or expanding their professional network. Students also devote 8-12 hours per week to field education throughout the year, compared to the 2-3 days each week required of students in a traditional degree program. Field hours requirements are the same as on campus students, but laid out differently. Most Intensive Weekend students (60-70%) complete a single work-place based placement throughout their studies, although options to ensure that students’ field experiences meet the School’s requirements and offer substantial opportunities for professional growth.
“It has been a pleasure to work with the School’s administration to expand opportunities for MSW education to individuals who work with some of our most vulnerable populations – and to watch the program grow.” comments Deglau.
Deglau reflects on the program from its initiation and remembers a time when it was only open to public child welfare workers. Since 2010, when the program began to accept students employed in many different agencies, it has experienced its greatest growth. From an initial class of 23 public child welfare employees, program enrollment today totals more than 200 students. More than half are employed in agencies providing mental health and related services, one fourth in public child welfare and the rest in a variety of social and community services, including work with veterans, the developmentally disabled, schools, and corrections and re-entry programs.
Deglau feels that students are attracted to the Intensive Weekend program not only because it works in the context of their busy lives and schedules. “The program is particularly attractive,” she says, “because students are able to attain Rutgers School of Social Work’s highly regarded MSW degree, and do so while continuing to pursue their careers.” Students frequently speak of the advantage of taking classes with a cohort of students who are similarly motivated – the opportunity to share professional experiences and the support they feel from their classmates. “Intensive Weekends function somewhat like a retreat, in which students delve deeply into the curriculum but also process how what they are learning applies to their particular field and work settings. On Monday, they apply what they have learned on the weekend.” says Deglau.
With Fall 2016 being the 10th anniversary of the Intensive Weekend program, Deglau reflects on the most rewarding aspect of having been involved in the development of the program, saying, “It is so gratifying to watch the transformations in our students as they assume the skills, values and ethics of the social work profession - and make a real difference in the lives of those they serve.” More than 150 public child welfare employees have completed their MSW through the program and most remain in active service, helping to sustain the reform effort that was just getting underway at the start of their studies, championing better services to children and families. More than twice that number from other fields of practice have completed their MSW or will in the coming year. “I think that the School of Social Work’s Intensive Weekend program is contributing to the professionalization of the social services workforce by giving experienced employees the chance to pursue their MSW,” concludes Deglau.