Toolkit Resources


Weber State University: Social Work and Gerontology

Barrett Bonella
Assistant Professor of Social Work

Weber State University ( is a mid-sized public university in located in Ogden, UT, about a 45-minute drive north of Salt Lake City. Our campus has a reputation for serving non-traditional students and is focused primarily on being an education first institution. Weber State has a long tradition of being civically and community engaged in its teaching practices. Its Social Work and Gerontology program is but one example of exemplary engagement offered at the Weber.

Civic and social responsibility is written into the very core of what social work is. As future social work professionals, our students are required to do a great deal of service throughout their study of the profession. From the time students take Intro to Social Work, they begin introducing themselves to local non-profits by performing 20 hours of community service for an agency that serves a cause they are interested in. After some theory classes, students will take classes in child welfare, social welfare policy, and research, where their civic engagement continues at a deeper level. In the child welfare course, students take extensive tours of multiple agencies in the area to familiarize themselves with the services available in the community. In the policy course, students will look at the elements involved in policy making, write a policy analysis, and engage in an advocacy project in the community related to the policy they analyzed. They are also required to attend and participate in local governmental meetings such as city, county, and legislative councils. In their senior year, students will engage in a 200+ hour practicum where they give dedicated social work services to an agency that best matches their skills and interests.

Our program’s goals and learning outcomes are largely dictated by the Council of Social Work Education (CSWE). Our program has been evaluated and recently reaccredited by the CSWE using the 2008 Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards (EPAS), and we will soon be transitioning to the 2015 EPAS. Of particular note are the social work competencies in engaging diversity in practice, advancing human rights/social and economic justice, engaging in research-informed practice/practice-informed research, and engaging in policy practice to advance well-being and deliver services.

Scaffolded Levels of Student Learning
All courses in the social work program teach skills and values aimed at making a difference in the community. All of our students start with a basic introduction to the profession by exposing them to how social work services are delivered in the real world by having them volunteer in service agencies. Their volunteer work serves the purposes of helping the agencies make their work easier, but also teaches students the basics of the service system. The students are required to engage in thoughtful reflections about their work as well as produce a brief agency analysis that helps the agencies identify strengths and weaknesses.

At the next level, early in the social work program, students engage in a project called a “change maker.” In this project, students are required to face their own biases towards people and put themselves in uncomfortable situations so they can learn to engage clients in a pluralistic society.

Soon thereafter, students will take a course in Child and Family Welfare. A prominent part of this class includes near weekly visits to social service agencies in the community, giving students a broad base of knowledge of community resources and agencies that they might serve later in their academic and working careers.

In the middle of their programs, students must take a class in social welfare policy. In this class, students learn the purpose and values of policies as well as the processes of making them. To best demonstrate their knowledge, students are required to attend civic events such as city and county council meetings and reflect on those experiences. They must also take a particular policy, analyze it, and engage in a community project to advocate for, against, or change the policy in question. Such advocacy projects often involve collaboration with political action groups and other non-profit agencies.

Again, in the middle of their academic careers, they will take a class in social work research. In this course, students will learn the basics of how science is used to produce knowledge and then will have the opportunity to collaborate with agencies to practice their skills. These projects typically include research as evaluation or service enhancement and are often more directly involved with students taking on research activities in close collaboration with the faculty and organization directors. Many times, these projects will lead to publications that students can use to help advance their careers beyond their bachelor’s degree.

Finally, in their senior year, students have two major community investments in their communities to demonstrate their skills. The most important one is their practicum. In their field work class, students will work with an agency for 200+ hours over the course of two semesters where they will provide direct social work services to clients, engage with agency administration, and critically reflect on their own and the system’s service capacities in the community. The other project comes from a class called social work macro practice, which teaches students how to organize communities, design programs, assess community needs, and change systems that they deal with by maneuvering power structures they encounter. The final project for the course requires that each social work major do an in-depth assessment of a community or organizational need and create a program or intervention to meet it. These projects have included starting agencies, writing grants, setting up fundraisers, and putting together sustainable services in the community.

Exemplary Courses That Highlight a Civic Lens
SW 3500- Social Welfare Policy History, Development, and Analysis
This course examines the history of American social welfare policy. In addition, the guiding missions and philosophies used in the development, implementation, and evaluation of past, present and future polices affecting social service delivery mechanisms will be discussed. This course examines social welfare policies across political spectrums and debates the capacities of those policies to deliver services through the lens of micro and macro perspectives.

SW 3930- Practice III: Macro Practice
Social Work Practice III is a three-credit hour generalist course designed to direct students toward understanding and demonstrating the principles, concepts, and techniques of planned change in macro settings including institutions, organizations, and communities. This course also considers the role of social policy and its effect on social work practice and social and economic justice.

Exemplary Project Descriptions
The following is an excerpt from the core assignment for Social Work 3930, Macro Practice. Among the multiple ways students have responded to this assignment, students have developed and started social service agencies, run successful fundraisers, won grants, and managed specific need charitable causes.

Advocacy Proposal (200 total points)
Individuals or groups of no more than three students will be responsible for writing a proposal for a Macro level group advocacy project to be implemented during the semester. The proposal will be divided into two sections utilizing the PREPARE model from Chapter 6, and the IMAGINE model from Chapter 7.

PREPARE: An Assessment of Organizational or Community Change Potential (100 points). Following the PREPARE model of assessment, groups will identify a Macro level problem within an organization of their choice, and determine whether or not they have the potential resources to pursue change. Using the IMAGINE model, each group will map out the intervention, steps of implementation, and potential pitfalls of following through with its plan. The proposals should be no more than 6 pages in content and follow APA format.

Advocacy Project Presentation (200 points)
Following the advocacy proposal, each individual/group will implement a Macro level project for their chosen advocacy group. Students will be assigned one class date to give a detailed presentation of their project, including the use of PowerPoint, multi-media, student-produced video, and/or other forms of media activities. Students are encouraged to invite guest speakers as part of their presentation as well as attend their advocacy group site for implementation of the project. Presentations should include detailed information of selected Macro problem/issue, complete background information of selected advocacy group/agency, as well as other similar agencies with similar goals, discussion of PREPARE/IMAGINE proposal that led to action plan, activities taken to create change, (Did this project actually help someone, and who benefited from project?), benefits/limitations to project (changes to actual project), and how the change was made sustainable. Groups may join together on larger scale projects, but by doing so, each group member may be required to grade each other for contributions. This may be requested by the students or done at the professor’s discretion.

Process for Adoption
At the local level, the department has been heavily influenced by the goals and values of social work which have always included civic engagement values as evidenced by the Council of Social Work Education’s Accreditation Competencies. While the language is not exactly the same as traditional community-engaged pedagogy, it is almost an unspoken rule that professors will teach towards engagement. “Official” adoption has largely been influenced by a university-wide adoption of civic engagement as a favored pedagogy and offered significant weight to the work when applying for tenure, promotion, and raises.

While still not official, our policy and procedure manual addressing promotion and tenure has unofficially put significant weight and is now looking at including the following language for advancement consideration:

Weber State University and the College value all academic activities by faculty across the areas of teaching, scholarship and service. The College strongly encourages candidates to develop and execute high impact learning experiences for students such as, but not limited to community-engaged activities, research with students, supervision of student internships, laboratory-based curriculum and activities, supervising student internships, and travel and study abroad experiences. High impact learning experiences shall be assigned extra weight relative to other activities, without diminishing the inherent value of any non-high impact activities accomplished. As part of the tenure evaluation process, candidates should provide evidence of the high impact activities they created and/or facilitated, and the resulting impact to students. High impact learning activities may be considered in the categories of Teaching or Professional Service. The candidate should choose the most appropriate category for each activity and make an argument for how this activity supports the chosen category.

Internal and External Influences
We had an excellent director of our Center for Community Engaged Learning who did a great deal of work to get Weber recognized as a community-engaged university. In 2008, one year after the Center for Community Engaged Learning was established, Weber State was awarded the Carnegie Classification for Community Engagement and has been on The President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll since the inception of the award. The Carnegie Classification has also had a significant impact on our colleges, leading them to adopt more pervasive institutional commitments to civic and community engagement. Through the leadership of the Center’s director that led to the national classification, professors have been more likely to get credit for creating civically engaged service opportunities through the classroom as well as special recognition for excellent projects and instruction. While the use of a community-engaged pedagogy was not required in our department, it was certainly supported, especially in classes where direct engagement provided better learning outcomes than traditional classroom approaches.

The benchmarks for evaluating our programs are not completely integrated. Currently, the Center for Community Engaged Learning keeps track of their work through yearly reports of the volunteer work and accomplishments done at the university. The Social Work Department, on the other hand, uses a set of surveys, a capstone, and supervisor assessments to evaluate the outcomes of our programs. The Social Work program is still largely governed by the Council of Social Work Education accreditation criteria. Our most recent self-evaluation can be found here.

Quantitative data aside, probably our best example is that of a student that came through our program with a dream of setting up a homeless shelter for adolescents. She knew the problem of youth homelessness existed and used her intro classes to explore what resources were available to homeless youth. In the process, she learned that it was illegal to shelter a homeless youth in Utah. She used her policy class to work with legislators to change the law, allowing for shelters to exist for homeless youth. In her senior year with her macro practice class, she organized a group of students to help raise funds for the program, netting roughly $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations. Her program was up and running the semester she graduated. The university created a brief video of her and her work which can be viewed here:

Words of Advice

  • Adoption of civic engagement as an integral part of a major is easier if you are in a department that values it as part of the discipline’s core values.
  • It can also be easier to implement if you yourself as a professional value civic engagement and develop expertise on how to orchestrate effective hands-on citizen engagement.
  • If you are unsure of your own abilities in this area, attend local city/county/state/school board meetings to see how the work is done. You are likely to quickly should find ways to offer your own expertise to those groups and imagine ways to construct effective project-based opportunities for students majoring in social work.
  • Once you’ve had a taste of it, encourage your students to find ways to apply what they learn to improve their lives, communities, and environments the same way.

Looking for more information on the courses? Please return to the top of the page and click on the “Exemplary Course Specifics” button found under the campus logo.