"A Voice for the Voiceless"

School of Social Work council strengthens ties with community partners to serve those in need




By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (March 5, 2010) – Turbulent times - individuals, families and children are in crisis. Meanwhile, resources are shifting for local, statewide and national social service agencies everywhere, impacting the level and quality of government and private assistance communities can count on to address their needs. Social workers, the people who step in to help with guidance and counseling at such times, are taking note and adjusting even as they respond to society’s problems. The social work educators and experts at the University of South Florida are preparing professionals to serve, lead and make their contributions to this important field by staying connected where it counts. 


USF has earned tremendous recognition for its community engagement, in part based on strong connections forged through its School of Social Work, now part of the College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. Building on this work over the years, the school has taken the step to re-establish its Professional Advisory Council (PAC), a group that links the school with the community through professional connections with agencies and institutions that serve those in need.


Getting off to a dynamic start, the Professional Advisory Council will hold its first event – a Social Work Celebration during Social Work Month, on March 26 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in recognition of the school’s students, alumni and community partners. It is co-sponsored by the Tampa Bay chapter of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) and will be hosted at USF’s Alumni Center. The goal is to reconnect students and faculty with social work alumni and community partners. In addition, NASW will present their annual recognition awards to honor social workers and others who support the values of the profession.


“In light of widespread funding cuts and challenges to individuals in our community, the formation of this council is extremely important,” said School of Social Work Director Anne Strozier.  “The council’s mission is to enhance channels of communication and cooperation between USF’s School of Social Work and community social work practitioners and their agencies.” 


The school benefits from the council by ensuring that students are learning best practices to help those in need who are served by community agencies where many of the school’s graduates will be working. Community agencies also benefit by learning how the school educates its students, as well as providing input to the school on important community/practice developments that impact the school’s program. Community partners join with the school to promote social justice and the entire profession of social work. “By working together we can assure that students are well prepared to practice effective social work in very challenging times.”


The council is assisted this year by Phil Smith, who was recruited by USF in 1975 to create a School of Social Work. Smith knows first-hand how to work closely with the community because when he created USF’s MSW program, he did so based on feedback from Tampa Bay social work community leaders. That connectedness has never been lost, and Strozier points out that being responsive to the community’s needs is why the field of social work exists.


“We serve as a voice for the voiceless and a support for those often abandoned in our society. The School of Social Work takes a leadership role in advocating for people in need in the Tampa Bay region and throughout our state, as well as for the agencies whose funding has been reduced or cut,” she said.  “Building on our reputation for quality education, research, and service, the school will continue to educate students, evaluate the effectiveness of community programs, and, with our community partners, find solutions to assist those most in need.  The School of Social work is needed now more than ever.”


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.