DSW program welcomes first cohort of online students

LAWRENCE – The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare welcomed the first class of students in a new online Doctor of Social Work (DSW) program this semester.

The 23 students in the inaugural KU DSW class come from seven states and hold Master of Social Work degrees from 11 universities, including 11 students who earned their MSW at KU. Their work experience covers a broad range of social work areas, including school social work, behavioral health, child welfare, government program administration, and therapy.

The Doctor of Social Work program aims to train expert practitioner-scholars who will go on to teach, mentor, and supervise social workers; assume leadership roles in social work practice settings; and generate and disseminate knowledge about multi-level social work practice.

KU DSW students attend classes entirely online, and half of the sessions are held in a Zoom classroom. Classes meet on specific dates and times, typically every other Saturday. Throughout the program, students develop and complete a capstone project that focuses on bringing evidence-based best practices into an agency or community setting.

Dr. Ed Scanlon, DSW program director, said the program represents a new way of thinking about doctoral education.

“This degree is ideal for students who want to bridge the worlds of academia and practice. We are helping to prepare scholarly practitioners who can translate scientific findings to practice communities, and help university researchers better understand the views of social work practitioners,” Scanlon said.

“The studies that students are beginning to plan are dynamic, exciting, and have the potential to be transformative for agencies and communities across the country,” Scanlon said.

DSW students have at least three years of social work practice experience beyond their master’s degree. An MSW is required for admission to the program. The first KU DSW cohort comes into the program with over 220 years of combined social work practice experience.

Faculty at the KU School of Social Welfare developed the DSW program over the course of four years, focusing the curriculum to meet workforce needs. Michelle Carney, dean of the KU School of Social Welfare and vice provost for Jayhawk Global, said the School surveyed social work practitioners in Kansas as part of the DSW program development. That survey found interest in a DSW program for students interested in macro practice and teaching.

“The DSW degree gives social workers interested in leadership and management positions more tools in their toolbox,” Carney said. “The online format means students can continue to work while they pursue their DSW, bringing the lessons they learn in the program immediately back to the communities they’re serving.”

The DSW is one of two new social work degree programs to launch this year through Jayhawk Global. The KU School of Social Welfare also introduced an online Master of Social Work (MSW) program, with students beginning in the summer and fall of 2023.

DSW student profiles: KU School of Social Welfare

Meet four students from the entering DSW class and learn about their backgrounds, career goals and reasons for choosing a DSW at KU.

Shelby Burnett

Shelby BurnettShelby Burnett has been a school social worker since 2018, currently working with students in Pre-K to fifth grade in Tonganoxie, Kansas. Burnett earned her BSW and MSW from KU. During her master’s program, Burnett participated in the Integrated Health Scholars Program, completing her clinical practicum at KidsTLC in Olathe.

As a licensed clinical master’s level social worker, Burnett looks forward to expanding her knowledge of macro-level social work, “which could help me with advocacy efforts for students and social workers in the state of Kansas and beyond,” she said.

“I think it’s really important for social workers to engage in all levels of social work – micro, mezzo and macro,” Burnett said.

Degrees: MSW, University of Kansas; BSW, KU

Capstone project focus: Expanding opportunities for school social work leadership

Why did you choose KU for your DSW?

Burnett said she appreciated KU’s focus on the Strengths Perspective in social work, and enjoyed continuing to work with the KU faculty.

“It’s nice to have that continuity in education when it comes to having similar teaching experiences and academic achievement,” Burnett said.

Kristen Rawls

Kristen RawlsKristen Rawls is a crisis therapist at the Treatment Recovery Center in Lawrence who also has a private therapy practice based in Baldwin City. In the DSW program, Rawls plans to focus on bringing more social inclusion programs to rural communities. He’s working on building a nonprofit, after-school program for teenagers in Baldwin City.

“The DSW is providing me with the information and the skills to empower me to push these things forward that I’m working on,” Rawls said.

Degrees: MSW, KU; Bachelor’s degrees in philosophy and art history, KU

Capstone project focus: Identifying exclusionary practices and lack of development in rural communities, and developing social inclusion programs in those communities

What made you want to pursue a DSW?

“I wasn’t so much looking to solely do research. I was looking to be a practitioner along with research,” Rawls said, adding that taking time to consider his goals for a doctoral degree helped crystallize his research focus.

Jennifer Hoskins

Jen HoskinsJennifer Hoskins is a family consultant with the Prevention Science Institute at the University of Oregon. Hoskins is an interventionist working on federally funded research grants. In the DSW program, she is focusing on a passion for expanding access to mental health services in the intellectual disability community.

Among the reasons Hoskins chose KU’s DSW program is the School’s history with the Strengths Perspective.

“The School of Social Welfare program at KU is the home of the Strengths Perspective in social work,” Hoskins said.  “I feel really strongly that the Strengths Perspective is important to doing work collaboratively with any community, but in particular with the intellectual disability community, because it is a community that spends a lot of time being evaluated for deficits before receiving care.”

Degrees: MSW, Portland State University; B.A. in Social Science, Portland State

Capstone project focus: Developing research on working alliances to expand mental health services to people with intellectual disabilities

What has your experience been like in the DSW program?

“I want to be truthful that it’s a lot. It is a big commitment – it’s consuming my weekends and early mornings. But it’s also a lot of good,” Hoskins said.

“The thing that is really cool about a DSW program is that people have worked in the field. So they are coming with really great career experience, and they’re also passionate about certain communities that they serve,” said Hoskins, who is in the full-time, two-year DSW cohort.

“People are quite experienced and thoughtful and intentional in their work. They’re bringing that back to the academic realm, and it’s really powerful.”

Adele Falk

Adele FalkAdele Falk has spent her career working in child welfare and victim services for government and nonprofit agencies. In the DSW program, she hopes to build on knowledge from her MSW in macro social work and achieve a career goal of earning a doctoral degree.

“A doctoral degree provides a more competitive edge for government jobs as well as public policy-related jobs in which one is competing against people with their JD or PsyD,” Falk said.

“When I saw that the DSW was an option that has been gaining more popularity, it was something that was really exciting to me, because it felt like a goal that was within reach,” Falk said.

Degrees: MSW, KU; Bachelor of Music, vocal performance, Kansas State University

Capstone project focus: Reducing risk of child removal by engaging fathers who use intimate partner violence

Why did you choose the KU DSW?

“KU was the only school I applied to that had faculty that focused on the correlation between families that have child welfare involvement and intimate partner violence,” Falk said.

What advice do you have for people considering a DSW?

“Find something you are passionate to write about for 2-4 years. And drink lots of coffee!”

About the KU School of Social Welfare

The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees in social work. The School’s mission is to transform lives and social contexts and promote social, economic, and environmental justice in Kansas, the nation and the world.

About Jayhawk Global Online Programs

The DSW program is a fully online program supported through Jayhawk Global. Online students receive the same recognizable degree just in a more flexible, convenient delivery method. The School of Social Welfare and its faculty are still the owners, developers, and implementers of the curriculum. By partnering with Jayhawk Global, the School of Social Welfare receives the added benefit of instructional design support through Jayhawk Global’s experts at its Center for Online and Distance Learning. These experts utilize the nationally recognized Quality Matters Rubric to build user-friendly course design and navigation. Jayhawk Global strives to ensure academic units are able to provide a robust, engaging and supportive learning environment and experience for each and every student. Through Jayhawk Global, KU plans to offer many more online degree opportunities giving students the chance to earn a globally recognized degree from anywhere in the world.