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Cycle 1 BEL Program

The CSWE Gero-Ed Center aims to recruit undergraduates to gerontological (gero) social work field placements, MSW level specializations, and careers by involving students in direct interaction with older adults through experiential learning activities. The Cycle 1 BEL Program, 2008-2010, funded 20 BSW programs to embed and sustain experiential learning activities with older adults into one or more required generalist courses.


Over 2100 students engaged with an older adult through an experiential activity from 2008-2010. All programs report that students attained gero practice behaviors through these activities. Additional accomplishments include:

  • 95% of programs state that they are highly likely or likely to continue the BEL experiential learning activities once funding ends;
  • 95% of programs report that participation in the BEL Program has increased the overall infusion of gero competencies into social work curriculum somewhat, to a large extent, or to a very large extent;
  • 75% of programs expect that other faculty in their program will infuse gero experiential activities in the future;
  •  65% of programs report that their experiential learning activities can continue without monetary resources.

What do Cycle 1 BEL grantees say?

  • Based on student feedback… [the BEL project] was one of the most powerful and memorable learning experiences they have had in their education. 
  • We exposed 158 students to work with geriatrics! Many of these stated that they would now consider a career with geriatrics, whereas before they hadn't.
  • Thanks to the BEL Program, our program has made group work with older adults a norm. 
  • We have created a program culture of ensuring that every student experiences work with clients across the lifespan.
  • We were able to receive a substantial Exceptional Merit grant from the university foundation for gero experiential learning.

Lessons Learned

Review Lessons Learned from the Cycle 1 BEL grantees, including tips such as:

  • Students benefit from direct contact with older adults from different economic, educational levels, and racial/ethnic groups to learn that there is no “one” type of elder.
  • Pilot testing really helps to work out the kinks before starting the full project.
  • Experiential activities need to be infused during class time or be well-planned in advance so students with scheduling issues can attend.
  • Partnerships and good working relationships with agency/site are key. It is essential to ensure that the site agency has their needs met, are fully invested in the project and will help see it through.
  • Make sure students understand the process and are clear about what is required or optional.


Click on a program name below to learn more about that program's innovations in experiential learning.

Ball State University
East Central University
Ferris State University
Fordham University
Loyola University of Chicago
Luther College
Michigan State University
Miles College
Saint Louis University
Shepherd University

Skidmore College
State University of New York at Fredonia
University of Arkansas at Little Rock
University of Central Missouri
University of Maine
University of North Carolina Greensboro
University of North Texas
University of Portland
Wayne State University
West Virginia University