Social Work students visit state Capitol for Advocacy Day

March 09, 2009

In their quest to take a deeper look at the influential role of advocates in the legislative process, a group of McDaniel College students recently ventured to Annapolis to participate in the statewide 13th Annual Social Work Students’ Advocacy Day.

The McDaniel contingent – which included Catherine Orzolek-Kronner, chair of the Social Work Department, and Jim Kunz, associate professor and program director – was among about 300 other college students from social work programs across Maryland who congregated in the state’s capital on Feb. 26 for the annual event.

The outing exemplified the beyond-the-classroom learning experiences in which McDaniel students learn to thrive.

“In class, we always talk about how social work affects policy and policy affects social work, but this was a hands-on opportunity to see that in action,” said Jessica Schisler, a sophomore. “Being there myself made the process less scary. The senators and delegates are real people who understand. I wouldn’t be afraid now to get involved.”

Schisler is among 50 McDaniel students majoring in Social Work. The college’s Social Work major trains students in “a generalist model of social work,” meaning they leave McDaniel with the background to pursue the field on a micro (clinical social work) or macro (policy and community organizing) level, Orzolek-Kronner said. Most of the college’s Social Work graduates pursue a master’s degree in social work at schools such as Columbia University, New York University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Maryland, she said.

“One of the strengths of Social Work is that graduates have a lot of options,” Orzolek-Kronner said. “Many go on to have a clinical social work practice, some work at agencies, such as child welfare agencies, or work as school social workers, or gerontological social workers. A few become community organizers or go on to policy practice, either as advocates or maybe even as elected officials.”

Participating in Advocacy Day, which is sponsored by the Maryland Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, helps to demystify the legislative process and emboldens Social Work students for the advocacy roles that many of them will soon assume, Kunz said.

“Its purpose is to introduce students to Maryland’s legislative process, to learn about policy issues that affect social workers and their clients, and to learn skills that enable them to influence policy,” Kunz said.

While in Annapolis, McDaniel Social Work students met with key legislators, including House Speaker Michael E. Busch and Baltimore County Delegate Dan Morhaim, who is the deputy majority leader of the House of Delegates and who treated the students to a tour of the State House.

The students also met with Brenda Donald, secretary of the Department of Human Resources, and Neil Bergsman, director of the Maryland Budget and Tax Policy Institute, as well as State Sen. Larry Haines, who represents the district in which McDaniel is located, and State Del. John Donoghue.

Over lunch, the students met with Dels. Nancy Stocksdale, an alumna of McDaniel, then Western Maryland College, and Tanya Shewell, both of whom represent the legislative district that includes the college.

McDaniel students also joined social workers from around the region during a morning rally organized to push for expanded health care coverage.

Being able to watch social workers on the front line of advocacy helps the students envision themselves fulfilling such a role someday. Advocacy, Kunz said, is a part of the social workers' mission statement and code of ethics.

“They were able to see a lot of social workers who do this for a living, who are advocates for a living,” Kunz said. “They learned about it in the classroom and were able to see it in action there.”

Teresa Reardon, Rebecca Odegaard

House Speaker Michael Busch, Olivia Sykes, Julie Busch, Laura
Michael, Alison Shuchat, Ashley Frye, Kristin Arbaugh, Heidi Davidhizar,
Jim Kunz

Front Row (holding banner): Jessica Schisler, Hannah Elovich, Julie Busch, Annie Arminger; middle row: Kristin Arbaugh, Rachel Robin, Lindsay Anderson, Laura Michael, Alison Shuchat, Michelle Karen, Christy Beatty; back Row: Ashley Frye, Cathy Orzolek-Kronner, Rebecca Odegaard, Olivia Sykes, Kiki Stellakis, Teresa Rearson, Jim Kunz, Heidi Davidhizar

Health care rally at the State House in Annapolis.