Social Connect fills experiential gap for students

Initiative provides participants first-hand interaction with social work agencies


Social service work’s broad nature is both a blessing and a curse.

The field ranges from residential group homes to shelters, addictions services to family counselling. And while that does provide many different employment opportunities, it makes squeezing the training into a two-year program a challenging task.

Time is limited and experiential learning is at a premium. Enter Social Connect, an initiative out of the social service worker (SSW) program’s social innovation hub.

“I wanted to develop a way for students to get exposure to different agencies,” said Paula Johnson, Social Connect’s project lead. “Right now we’re limited to one or two placements depending on our program. This way, students can go out to several different organizations and get a sense of the different opportunities in the field.”

For students, agencies can be little more than names on a page or a presentation. Through its organized tours and group volunteer events, Social Connect allows folks to experience agencies first-hand alongside fellow SSW students.

The initiative has brought students to agencies such as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Fred Victor, Second Harvest and Jessie’s Centre.

“She’s actually meeting a gap in terms of the services around the college for students,” said professor Natalie Wood, co-ordinator of the hub about Johnson. “Students need to know what the field is like, and we can only provide them with so much information.”

The manner in which Social Connect augments the current educational experience is a win-win for students, agencies and the college. Students have a chance to experience the feel of an agency, hear from its staff and clients, and make a more informed decision on whether it would be a good fit.

Visits are a brief but meaningful snapshot which might not otherwise exist. Especially for something as consequential as placement, it’s an opportunity that could save both student and agency future hassles.

“Sometimes we get placement students that come here and go, ‘You know what, maybe that’s not exactly what I want to do, maybe something else,'” said Sherry Rutter, youth programs lead at Jessie’s Centre. “Just to have this exposure really gives you more of an idea of yes, this is exactly what I want to do or not.”

George Brown’s SSW program places deserved emphasis on the value of lived experience. Through this initiative, students get to hear the experiences of others and develop some of their own.

“We can relate to the people here,” said student Nishima Yashpal, after visiting Jessie’s Centre. “Hearing the lived experiences really counts, so I feel it was a major achievement for me to come here.”

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Social Connect fills experiential gap for students