The BSW Experiential Learning (BEL) Program promoted innovative experiential learning. It aimed to infuse gerontological and intergenerational content throughout the BSW foundation curriculum and to recruit undergraduates to gerontological social work field placements and careers. There were two cycles of the BEL Program:
What Is Experiential Learning?
Experiential learning is a philosophy and methodology in which student learners engage in structured activities that address human and community needs, and in focused reflection about these activities. Examples include:
- Designing and participating in an intergenerational program with older adults and elementary schoolchildren
- Engaging in legislative advocacy with older adults
- Recruiting elders to participate in health promotion classes at a senior center
- Participating in home visits with a social worker
- Taking Boys & Girls club participants to assisted living facilities to read to elders
- Carrying out a focus group of older adults with a local nonprofit organization
- Conducting oral histories with elders
- Practicing interviewing skills with older residents of a housing complex or long-term care facility
- Helping complete a needs assessment to develop elder-friendly communities
By 2020, one in six Americans are projected to be age 65 and older, with the most dramatic growth among those over age 85, elders of color, and women. As a result, social workers interact with older adults and their families in nearly all practice settings – child welfare, substance use, health and mental health, and schools, – but are typically not formally prepared to do so. Recognizing this, the Gero-Ed Center promotes foundation-level gerontological competencies for all social work graduates. The gap between the growing employment opportunities for BSW-level social workers and the limited number of BSW graduates who are gerontologically-competent provides the rationale for the BSW-only BEL Program. The job market is strong for BSW-level social workers in the aging network and in long-term care settings. Yet relatively few BSW programs offer course content to prepare graduates to work effectively with older adults and their families.
Involving older learners in the classroom, service learning, intergenerational programs, oral histories, or field placements with older adults are typically positive experiences for BSW students. These experiences often dispel misconceptions, negative attitudes, and fears about aging. Additionally, they may result in students’ pursuit of gerontological social work courses and employment or an MSW with a focus on older adults. By funding BSW gero experiential learning, the BEL Program aimed to recruit undergraduates to social work field placements, graduate level education, and careers working with elders and their families.