Armed with the firm belief that there is nothing more universal
than the issues of poverty, homelessness, grief, crime, substance
abuse, domestic violence and discrimination, University of Texas
at Austin social work students are spanning the globe this spring
applying lessons learned in the classroom to experiences in the
Master’s students (left to right) Suzanne
Weaver and Jaya Mathew join faculty liaison Ruth Rubio in
In fact, Professor Jane Kretzschmar gives new meaning to the progression
in higher education of sending graduates out into the world. As
director of field education in the School of Social Work, she is
overseeing 160,000 hours of fieldwork—this year alone—in
locations from Texas to Switzerland, from New York to Australia.
Learning alongside veteran social workers and administrators provides
students the ultimate educational experience, said Kretzschmar,
who sits beside a “Field is the Heart of Social Work Education”
poster in her office. Fieldwork allows students to explore their
professional identity, issues of social and economic justice, issues
concerning populations at risk and the ethics and values of the
social work profession.
A total of 280 undergraduate and graduate social work students
at the university are doing field placements this spring in Austin,
Temple, El Paso, Dallas, San Antonio, New York City, San Francisco,
Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., as well as Nebraska, Oregon, New
Mexico, Colorado, North Carolina, Louisiana, Arizona and Canada,
England, Switzerland and Australia. They are working in hospitals,
schools, substance abuse centers, wilderness-counseling camps and
with domestic violence, victim services and child protective services
Past field placements for university social work students have
included such countries as Mexico, Finland and the Philippines.
work student Bethany Wofford enjoys the U.N. Palais de Nations
A student can only learn so much in a classroom, said Sharon Brown,
who is doing her field placement with the Community Development
Project of the Urban Justice Center in New York City.
“While concepts, strategies, theory and technology can be
taught in the classroom, the human effect on the work can only be
learned in practice,” she said.
The Urban Justice Center was founded in 1984 as a nonprofit organization
providing legal representation and advocacy to the poor and homeless
in New York City. It is housed in a 12-story building in New York’s
Brown’s day can be spent recruiting volunteers for a particular
project, attending a tenant meeting in the South Bronx or a public
hearing in another part of the city, administering surveys to tenants
on their living conditions or designing a database to collect housing
“I decided on a career in social work because I have always
felt that there is more to living that serving your own immediate
needs,” said Brown. “I truly believe in a global conscience
and that as part of the human race it is each of our individual
duties to work towards a better world. Call me idealistic.”
Jaya Mathew, who is working on her master’s degree in social
work, has a regular caseload for her field placement in London and
is quickly learning England’s social welfare system. In her
job for the Mawney Centre’s Looked After Children program,
she regularly makes home visits to a child’s home in order
to assess how a child is doing and conducts risk assessments on
family members and friends who want visitation rights.
Bradsher (center) discusses patients’ cases at Shoal
Creek Hospital in Austin.
“I felt that being a social worker would challenge me everyday
and fulfill my need to help others,” said Mathew. “I
really enjoy the therapeutic aspect of being a social worker. As
cheesy as it sounds, it’s amazing to see how much a difference
one person can make in a child’s life.”
Back in Austin, Mavis Bradsher is teaming up with doctors, nurses,
administrators and other social workers in the new chemical dependency
unit at Shoal Creek Hospital. She is finding it the perfect place
to further her interest in diverse populations with chemical dependency
“The thought of working in a psychiatric hospital may sound
very dark and depressing, but I have found the experience to be
rewarding and valuable,” said Bradsher, who works with children,
teenagers and adults. She has had the opportunity to see patients
for independent counseling and is responsible for scheduling medical
and social services and resources to aid patients when they are
At 56 years old, Bradsher is older than the average student. She
wanted to go to college when she completed high school, but her
family—with 10 children—didn’t have the money.
She is the only sibling to get a bachelor’s degree and now
a master’s degree.
Austin’s sister city, is known as “the city of
“When I began to seriously look at social work, I knew I
had found my calling,” she said. “I am convinced that
I am in the field I was meant to be in, and I have never regretted
the choice I made. Social work rocks.”
Nearly all of these social work students—and really anyone
in social work—seem to go into the profession almost as a
calling. They simply want to help other people, no matter how much
they’re paid, no matter how depressing the work can sometimes
be, no matter how long the hours.
Andrea Lasater is another example. She has been working “down
under” in Adelaide, Australia, which is Austin’s sister
city. The coastal city of one million people is laid out in a grid
with parklands surrounding it. Lasater has found the people to be
laid back (“even more than Austin”) and routinely is
asked to join different families for dinner.
Her field, grief and loss counseling, is new in general and especially
new in Australia.
“I chose to do my field placement here because of the opportunity
to work with clients with a different culture than my own,”
said Lasater, who works at the Anglicare Loss and Grief Center.
“I also thought that living in a foreign country would broaden
my horizons, which will be beneficial to me both professionally
Kim Durham, the university’s first student
to do fieldwork in Australia, took this photo. She now works
for the School of Social Work.
A typical day for Lasater is filled with telephone counseling and
referrals and working with such agencies as the Homicide Victims
Support Group and a British child migrants group.
“I decided on a career in social work because I want to help
people create more positive lives for themselves,” she said.
Each day at the Woodside Trails Therapeutic Camp in the piney woods
near Smithville, Texas, brings new challenges for master’s
degree student Mario Cortez. (And, he’s not even talking about
the freezing temperatures, rain, bugs and now heat.) Cortez provides
counseling to troubled boys over games of basketball, story telling,
hikes and “any and everything that allows them to share their
stories and work through issues.
“Being a part of their struggles and progress offers me unbelievable
insight into my own learning—as a social worker and person,”
“As a camper and one who enjoys the outdoors, I was intrigued
by the wilderness camp concept and how teaching survival skills
is a form of therapeutic treatment,” said Cortez. “Fieldwork
is great because we have the opportunity to take everything we have
ingested and learned in a formal education setting and turn it outward.”
Bethany Wofford is doing her fieldwork at one of the world’s
premier humanitarian organizations, the United Nations High Commission
on Refugees in Geneva, Switzerland. It has been an eye-opening experience
and “one that I know will guide my work as I look for ways
in which to affect social change on a domestic and international
level,” she said.
The headquarters building is about a five-minute walk from the
U.N. Palais de Nations, the original headquarters of the League
Cortez helps troubled boys at the Woodside Trails Therapeutic
Camp near Smithville, Texas.
All of the people Wofford works with have worked directly in refugee
emergency situations and are willing to share their expertise and
experiences with her. The commission, she said, primarily operates
as an emergency response agency, reacting to international conflict
and crisis by coordinating humanitarian action. It is a fast-paced
“What I find most fascinating about my placement is the international
scale that everything takes place on,” said Wofford, who is
working on a project for evaluating the community services provided
to refugees worldwide.
“In addition to the amazing experience of being a part of
the U.N. system, the placement has been invaluable in terms of increasing
my knowledge and understanding of community development and empowerment,”
she said. “Many people, including some social workers, unfortunately
view the profession as one that provides handouts and charity to
individuals. I see it as a way to promote empowerment and healthy
development of individuals, families and communities. In considering
a career in social work, it never seemed like there was much of
a choice for me.”
Wofford said she has never contemplated a career that did not involve
intervening in the world around her in an effort to facilitate social
“I am not sure how I could motivate myself to get up in the
morning and go to work if all I was gaining from it was a comfortable
living,” she said.