In March, social work professor Monte Butler and three senior social work majors from Pacific Union College traveled to Atlanta, Georgia, for the annual conference of the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors (BPD). Butler and four students had submitted two posters to the conference, both of which were accepted — a notable achievement in this competitive professional conference. But the honors escalated when the poster by student Brian Rodriguez and Butler was given Highest Honors, the equivalent of first place in the nation.
The conference only recently began featuring posters, and this is the second year PUC students have participated and received honors. Last year, two students won "high honors" (second place) for a poster. This year's honored poster was titled "Aggression Replacement Training for At-Risk Youth: Will Gender Matching Help?" and evaluated a program at a local agency that was designed to help at-risk teenagers manage their anger.
Rodriguez, who's considering postgraduate work and law studies, explains how his work on the project was facilitated by two required social work classes, one guiding field research and another teaching the process of compilation and writing. Taking the resulting work to the BPD conference proved to be even more rewarding than he'd expected, giving him a chance to view his experience and education in context of other social work programs — and to feel solid in his direction. "I really feel like the social work program at PUC does a really good job preparing us for the profession. Even other professors [at the conference] tell us we're pretty progressive."
The students served as volunteers at the conference, doing support tasks for workshops to cover their entrance fees, as well as attending some of the sessions and presenting their posters. Butler, who as the director of PUC's social work program typically attends for accreditation reasons, was present for the entirety of the conference, which includes workshops, receptions, paper presentations, roundtables.
Butler notes the significance of this kind of experience for the students, which is an emphasis in the program. First, they were carrying out advanced research at a community agency. Then they gained experience at a professional convention and were honored for their efforts. Additionally, each of these students is currently involved in an internship in their field.
Students Arian Gregory, Rebecca Brockle, and Anna Hernandez (Anna was not present at the conference due to international studies), presented their poster "Food Insecurity: A Single Question Survey in Angwin, CA" at the conference. Their project researched if and where people in Angwin need more food resources and provided data for the Angwin Food Pantry, which the social work program runs. "The most satisfying thing about the project was that it affected the Angwin Food Pantry by giving it not only a reason to exist, but also an idea of where and how to network or advertise to find the people who needed more resources," says Gregory.
While their food insecurity project had direct local value, the students also found their trip to the BPD conference worthwhile in other ways. Gregory found that "the whole experience was very productive and enjoyable because I got to meet so many social workers and a few social work students; it was exciting to be able to exchange ideas and discuss problems that we face within our various agencies and communities."