Lois Pierce leads School of Social Work through new growth phase

“I like to see students graduating with the skills they need so they can hit the ground running.”

Lois Pierce

Lois Pierce, director of the School of Social Work at UMSL (Photo by August Jennewein)

This is just one of the many goals Lois Pierce has for the School of Social Work at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Through more than a decade of service, Pierce has proven herself to be effective at program development and leadership.

As director of the school, she has added a Master of Social Work degree, cultivated a team of talented faculty members and cemented community partnerships.

Now that the School of Social Work reports directly to the provost as a freestanding academic unit, she aims to further advance a mission of scholastic and professional excellence in the social services.

UMSL Daily contacted Pierce for further details on the change.

What have been the most important factors in developing the School of Social Work?

First and foremost, the school hires good faculty who are focused on research and also have a practice background. We want faculty to engage in research because that keeps them up to date and knowledgeable in their field of expertise. On-the-job experience is just as valuable and necessary as academic study.

Prospective faculty members must have at least two years of practice in an agency –preferably more, so when they put together practice with their research, they become really exceptional teachers.

Second, the school is very selective and only admits students with great potential. The students are assessed over time to make sure they are growing and learning the competencies that show they are able to practice as professional social workers.

And finally, the school provides internships and practicums through partnerships with the community. That we’re able to provide so many places for students to learn has always been a benefit.

Currently we have students working at places like Barnes–Jewish Hospital and Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. One student even has a pretty interesting job working with youth at Circus Flora. Anything you could think of where social services are needed, we have students there. With that being said, I’m proud to say our job placement rate for graduates comes in at around 90 percent.

How will the School of Social Work’s new status as a freestanding academic unit benefit students?

Social work is a noble but demanding field, and the school wants to prepare students thoroughly. Academic advisers who can help students select courses and also provide advice based on their own professional experiences as social workers are important to this goal.

As a freestanding unit now, we are able to build a team of academic advisers who can give students more in-depth guidance and explain the big and small differences between, say, working in a school environment versus working in a juvenile court.

Also, the provost understands what the school needs to do to satisfy accreditation standards and reporting directly to her allows us to update the curriculum more quickly. Keeping this advantage in pocket, the school will be able to consistently offer a range of cutting-edge courses.

What are some of the changes the new curriculum will bring?

Specialization areas for graduate students will be a part of the updated curriculum. Students will be able to focus on fields such as as military and gerontological social work. Another great avenue will be our community development program, where students could help communities like Ferguson create long-term strategic plans to create positive change.

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