Student, faculty, and staff have been working hard to make the Northwest Indiana community a better place for all
The year 2021 marks the 25th birthday of IU Northwest’s School of Social Work. Since 1996, faculty, staff, and students have been working hard to make the Northwest Indiana community a better place for everyone. Today, the school continues to be a leader in the field.
It is the only social work program offering both a graduate and undergraduate program in Northwest Indiana,” Director of the School of Social Work Darlene Lynch said. She also pointed out that it was the first in the region to offer a graduate degree.
One of the first students to take advantage of the graduate program was Marshelia Harris, now an assistant professor, and the director of the Bachelor of Social Work program. At the time, she was working with the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services (IDCFS) as a project manager.
But as she delved deeper into her job with IDCFS, she began envisioning even more for herself in the field of social work. “IU Northwest started a program, and I should have applied the first year. But I got scared at the last minute, didn’t apply, and ended up being in the second cohort,” Harris said.
The program had everything Harris was looking for—evening classes, an easy commute from Chicago, and plenty of personal interaction with faculty.
Lynch said that graduates of the social work program have numerous career opportunities and the potential for movement across the field. Harris optimizes this vision of social work alumni.
After graduating, she worked in the field for a few more years. “It gave me a different perspective on how to provide services to clients, how to interact with the community, and how to engage in policy activities,” she said.
But soon enough, Harris took the next step in her career, becoming a member of faculty at her alma mater in 2005 as an adjunct professor. She identifies the former director of the School of Social Work, Dr. Denise Travis, as being the one to give her the final push into an academic career.
Travis kept pursuing me, so I gave it a shot, and I loved it,” she said.
As a professor, Harris enthusiastically shares her love of social work and helping the community with her students. “My expectations are always high, and I expect my students to work up to those expectations,” she said. “Students walk out the door as a more enlightened and empowered social worker.
Harris encourages prospective students not to be scared to take the next step, as she was while seeking higher education. In fact, she continued to push herself and eventually earned her doctorate.
She asks students to look inward and really think about how they want to impact their community. After that, she recommends speaking with professors. Harris said her door, for one, is always open.
25 Years of Success
There’s no one reason the School of Social Work has been so successful in the last 25 years. Harris cited small class sizes and an array of fieldwork placements as the secret ingredients, while Lynch noted accreditation and student success on state exams. The magic seems to come from a combination of these factors, plus engaged faculty and passionate students. “I feel like a family a lot of times,” Harris said. “I want my students to have the best education and exposure, and I think we as a faculty have done that.”
And that commitment to student success ripples out into the community. “Human services agencies in Northwest Indiana have access to a pool of qualified candidates,” Lynch said. “In the past, these agencies didn’t even advertise for [these positions] since there were very few individuals with the degree.”
Fortunately, the social work field in Northwest Indiana now has a strong foundation, thanks to IU Northwest’s school and the faculty and staffs’ tireless commitment. Twenty-five years has resulted in plenty of qualified alumni, and the next 25 are sure to see countless more.