Please note: This is NOT the most current catalog.

Social Work
(SOCIAL work and family studies)

Chair, 2013-14: Mary Carlsen (Social Work and Family Studies), social policy, ethics, practice, social welfare history

Faculty, 2013-14: Jennifer Manner, family relationships; Laura McKibbin (Social Work and Family Studies), social work practice; Susie Smalling (Social Work and Family Studies), family relationships, cross-cultural practice, field education

St. Olaf students prepare for lives of service as responsible and knowledgeable citizens. Those who study social work are committed to enhancing human well-being and alleviating suffering. Social work, a major in the Department of Social Work and Family Studies, builds on students’ liberal education by enabling them critically to examine need, illumine inherent human strengths, reflect on their ethical conduct, and explore policies and programs that address social problems. The social work mission is to prepare students ethically to serve diverse populations and to promote a just global community. Completing a bachelor of arts degree in social work prepares students for beginning generalist professional practice with diverse clients, both rural and urban. The Council on Social Work Education accredited the program beginning in 1990. Graduates meet requirements for the national licensure examination at the baccalaureate level and are eligible to apply for advanced standing in social work graduate programs.

Courses meet WRI, MCG, and ORC general education requirements and are appropriate for students who are interested in social welfare, the Peace Corps, AmeriCorps, Lutheran Volunteer Corps, or related areas like family studies, education, church work, and human resources. Level III courses are reserved for majors.


Social work education builds on the liberal arts with professional foundation courses. It prepares students for generalist practice, students who understand scientific approaches to knowledge building and practice, are reflective of and responsible for their own ethical conduct, and are committed to lives of service and leadership in the global community. Courses are sequential, culminating with the 400-hour field practicum and a capstone course with a portfolio. Students gain experience with individuals, groups, families, organizations, and communities in settings as diverse as child welfare, health, and corrections. Practica are in the nearby communities; placement elsewhere can be arranged with advance preparation.




The program actively seeks and encourages students from diverse backgrounds to consider a social work major and provides one-to-one advising.

First- and second-year students interested in social work are encouraged to submit an Interest Inventory. It is available from program faculty, and on the department Web site. The major application, admission requirements, requirements to remain in good standing in the program, processes for petitioning reinstatement, and grievance procedures for redress of any adverse decision are also there. The program does not discriminate against any student on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, culture, class, religion, national origin, age, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation or gender identity, public assistance status, or geographic location. Students are formally notified in writing of admission to the major by January of the junior year.

Students who transfer to St. Olaf at or before the beginning of the junior (third) year may be considered for admission to the major, provided they have completed equivalent prerequisite courses in sociology, psychology, and human biology. Field practicum and practice courses must be completed while enrolled at St. Olaf. No credit or waiver is given for previous internship, work, or life experience.

requirements for the social work major

Those interested in the major should contact the department chair in their first year or as early as possible. Students in good standing at the college who have satisfactorily completed prerequisite courses and Social Work 221 are eligible to apply for admission to the major. Students are granted major status only after satisfactory completion of Social Work 221, 246, 254, and a major application. Students must achieve a grade of C or better in all prerequisite and required courses to progress in the major. Details are specified in the program manual available from faculty or the department web site.

Prerequisite Courses Required for the Major

Sociology 121 (or another sociology course approved by a social work advisor), Psychology 125 and 241, and Biology 123 or 243 (or another biology course approved by a social work advisor).

Foundation Social Work Courses Required for the Major

Social Work 221, 246, 254, 258, 261, 274, 373, 380, and 381. Students must be admitted to the social work major and in good academic standing to register for all level III courses. A field practicum of at least 400 clock hours (Social Work 380 block practicum), professionally supervised in an affiliated agency, is required during fall semester of the senior year. Social Work 373 and 380 together constitute a full semester’s work (4.0 credits). Field practicum experience may be completed while living on or off campus. Statistics is strongly recommended, especially for students who anticipate graduate study.




The St. Olaf social work program encourages student participation in off-campus programs, both domestic and international. Majors can conveniently schedule an Interim abroad. To participate in a semester program off-campus (e.g., HECUA in South America, ACM Chicago Urban Studies, Tanzania, Namibia, or Mexico) and complete the major requirements in four years, students must plan early and carefully with the help of social work faculty. St. Olaf co-sponsors Social Work in a Latin American Context (Mexico) for social work majors, which fulfills major requirements, in the spring semester of the junior year.

Students often count social work courses for other interdisciplinary majors and concentrations including family studies, racial and ethnic studies, biomedical studies, and women’s and gender studies. Social work majors are eligible for student-rate membership in the National Association of Social Workers and to receive its publications.

Social work faculty occasionally supervise students doing independent study/research in social welfare and social service after the student has completed at least one social work course. Completing the social work major is possible only through regular coursework, however.

recommendations for graduate study

Students considering social work graduate school are strongly encouraged to consult faculty about appropriate undergraduate courses. Human biology and statistics are usually required for admission to social work graduate programs. Department offerings provide preparation for graduate study in marriage and family counseling, non-profit management, public policy, ministry, special education, law, and related fields. Students who excel in the social work major are often eligible for advanced standing in Master of Social Work (MSW) programs.


120 I Want to Help People

Students explore service to human beings as a profession, a vocation, and a volunteer commitment. Who needs help? Who helps? Where? How? What motivates people to help? Using the liberal arts as a foundation for helping people, students study vocational opportunities in areas such as health care, social services, ministry, youth work, and the arts. The class includes lectures, discussions, speakers, and field visits; additional fee. Open only to first year students and a few sophomores. Offered during Interim. Counts toward women's and gender studies major and concentration.

125 Racism and Sexism in American Family Life

This course introduces students to the study of racism and sexism from a variety of disciplinary perspectives with special attention to the impact on women and on African-American and Latino families. Students examine the processes by which race and gender are socially constructed to benefit some and disadvantage others. Students consider how prejudice develops and learn strategies to communicate with people of diverse backgrounds. Counts toward family studies concentration and racial and ethnic studies major and concentration.

221 Social Work and Social Welfare

Students study the progression of the U.S. social welfare system from English Poor Laws through the Social Security Act to contemporary reforms and how its components (public, private, faith-based) interrelate to serve diverse populations. The development of social work, its foundational knowledge, values, and skills, and its relationship to fields of social welfare are included. Students shadow a social worker for four hours. Offered each semester. Counts towards American studies major and family studies concentration.

246 Human Behavior in the Social Environment

Humans relate to one another in families, groups, organizations, and communities. Through social systems, cross-cultural, strengths, and other theoretical perspectives, students apply prerequisite and advanced content material from biology, sociology, and psychology to assess situations encountered by social workers. Diverse examples are drawn from literature -- Love in the Driest Season, The Color of Water, A Poison Stronger than Love and from students' autobiographies. Prerequisites: Sociology 121, Psychology 241, and Biology 123 or 243; open to non-majors by permission of chair only. Offered annually in the fall semester.

254 Inclusive Practice: Individuals and Families

Social work majors study the methods and skills of social work practice, particularly intercultural communication. They describe strengths and problems of diverse individuals and families; frame goals and plans for change utilizing the planned change process and the systems perspective; and use ethical decision-making, informed by the scientific method, grounded in the liberal arts, and concerned with social justice. Students demonstrate learning in videotaped role playing and have an agency interviewing experience. Prerequisites: Social Work 221 and concurrent enrollment in Social Work 246. Offered annually in the fall semester.

258 Social Policy

Immigration policy and welfare reform exemplify how society's values and needs translate into policies and programs. Social workers work for justice by creating, implementing, and evaluating policies in health, employment, housing, and child welfare. Students study policy formation and analysis that reflect interests and powers of diverse groups as well as economic and social needs of certain populations at risk. The course emphasizes policy impact on women, people in poverty, African-Americans, gay men and lesbians, and Latinos. Open to non-majors by permission of instructor. Offered annually in the spring semester. Counts towards American studies major and biomedical studies concentration.

261 Inclusive Practice: Groups, Organizations and Communities

Social work majors continue the methods and skills of generalist practice. They assess strengths and problems of diverse groups, organizations, and communities and use the systems perspective to help client systems frame goals and plans for social change. Students scientifically assess macrosystems and develop plans for implementing change that are reflective, scientific, just, and grounded in the liberal arts. Prerequisite: Social Work 254. Offered annually in the spring semester.

274 Evaluation of Social Work Practice and Programs

Social work majors study scientific approaches to building knowledge for generalist practice and assessing effectiveness and efficiency of both individual practice and social service programs. Students learn to assess needs and progress, design case interventions, measure client satisfaction, and assess program outcomes. They evaluate elements of practice with diverse clients and portions of programs with which they are familiar and apply ethical standards to scientific inquiry. Open only to social work majors. Offered annually in the spring semester.

280 Social Realities in South Africa

Students study historical and contemporary realities of race, social class, health, welfare, and human rights in South Africa. This dynamic society provides unique opportunities to study the challenges and successes of inclusion, respect, and reconciliation in the post-Apartheid era. Students travel to three regions and meet with public, private, and community-based organizations. Special emphasis is on the status of women and children. Prerequisite: one course in political science, sociology/anthropology, social work, economics, psychology, family studies, or women's and gender studies. Offered occasionally during Interim. Counts toward Africa and the Americas and family studies concentrations.

294 Internship

298 Independent Study

373 Culturally Competent Practice

This course immediately precedes (Social Work 380): Field Practicum. Students integrate principles and skills of culturally competent assessment, planning, intervention, and evaluation with diverse clients -- individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities. They roleplay diverse practice situations and articulate implications of social policy for cross-cultural practice Brief immersion opportunities in diverse communities are included. Additional fee. Prerequisite: Social Work 261. For senior majors only. Offered annually in September.

380 Field Practicum (3.0 credits)

In this "real world" experience, social work majors complete at least 400 hours in a rural or urban agency with structured learning about generalist practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities from diverse backgrounds. Students engage in professional responsibilities with careful guidance and supervision from the field supervisor and the field coordinator. Students attend a weekly evening seminar to integrate classroom learning, share experiences, and obtain support. Prerequisite: Majors who have satisfactorily completed all foundation and required courses with numbers below 380. Offered annually in the fall semester.

381 Social Worker as Professional

This capstone course is for senior majors. Students complete a social work portfolio to illustrate their readiness to begin practice as a generalist social worker. Classes emphasize auxiliary knowledge and skills in leadership. Students discuss emerging social work issues and provide peer assistance with portfolios. Evaluation includes oral presentation, ethics case analyses, portfolio assignments, and analysis of overall mastery of program competencies. Prerequisite: Social Work 380.

394 Academic Internship

396 Directed Undergraduate Research: "Topic Description"

This course provides a comprehensive research opportunity, including an introduction to relevant background material, technical instruction, identification of a meaningful project, and data collection. The topic is determined by the faculty member in charge of the course and may relate to his/her research interests. Prerequisite: determined by individual instructor. Offered based on department decision. May be offered as a 1.00 credit course or .50 credit course.

398 Independent Research