School of Professional Studies

School of Professional Studies

History of the Department of Social Work

Social Workers are change agents– we make change happen. The early history of the structure of the Department is one of frequent change. The Department of Social Work at Western Connecticut State University began in 1974 as a program within the Social Science Department in the Macricostas School of Arts and Sciences, called the Social Welfare Program. Phyllis Singerman was the first Program Director. In 1975, Professor Beatrice Nemzer was hired and in 1976 she became Chair when Dr. Singerman retired to Florida. Professors Nemzer and Anna Morton were then the full-time faculty of the program.

Social Work became its own department in the School of Professional Studies under the deanship of Fred O’Neil for a short time in the late 1970s. Jerry Fox joined the Department briefly when Anna Morton returned to private practice. In 1980, Professor Patricia W. Ivry was hired. In 1981, the Department learned that the proper papers had never been filed at the State Dept. of Higher Education for department status, so it became part of the Social Sciences Department again, as a social work major. From 1981-1994, Social Work was part of Social Sciences, but maintained autonomy in most areas, including having its own director and budget. In 1994 the University approved the program to become a Department again, in the School of Professional Studies, under the Deanships of Dr. Walter Bernstein and then in 2001 of Dr. Lynne Clark, and 2012 of Dr. Jess House

In 1984 the Department received its initial national accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education with the expert consultation services of the late Dr. Ronald Federico. The Department has maintained continuous accreditation since then with reaffirmations in 1989 and 1997, and in 2005 received its unconditional reaffirmation of accreditation through 2013.

Professor Nemzer retired in 1990 and Patti Ivry took over as Chair, hiring Dr. David Iaccona-Harris for one year, and then Associate Professor Marjorie Steinberg. Subsequently, Professor Robert Veneziano joined the faculty in 2000, Assistant Professor Kit Hinga in 2005, and Assistant Professor Deneen Harris in 2008; Professor Emeritus Dr. Phyllis Ross, who joined the faculty in 1994, retired in 2005.  Other faculty in the Department included Roz Kopfstein, Edgar Colon, Robert Page, Thomas Kidder and Beverly Kidder. Adjunct faculty over the years who have taught from one to several courses include: Alex Berardi, Terry Blackmer, Barry Boriss, Lisa Buck, Donna Campbell, Karen Chuck, Bruce Freidman, Tom Foster, Ann Goelitz, Mary Harrington, Connie Huntington, Cathy Lipper, Bill Mack, Helloise “Petey” Millner, Joan Pollack, Linda Puoplo, Jake Romo, Cheryl Roundtree, Dolores Vidal Roy, Pam Samaha, Holly Schardan, Shirley Schop, Stephanie Shaughnessy, Dick Steinberg, Mary Strauss, Ray Strolin, Joe Sullivan, Dennis Torres, Donald Tutson, Stan Watkins, and Arlette Werner.

From 2001 – 2004, Professor Marjorie Steinberg served as the department chair. In 2004, Dr. Robert Veneziano assumed the position of department chair.

Since its inception the Department has had only three secretaries, Kristine “Mikki” Jacobellis, Molly Berger, and beginning in July 2007, Katie Koulogianis. Their expert services have provided the underpinnings to smooth functioning and added to student supports; they have enhanced the program’s community relations.

In 1974 Professor Nemzer created an annual Social Work Symposium, and brought Congressman William Ratchford to campus to discuss Aging in America. The Symposium has been held every spring since then and included luminaries in the field such as the late Dr. Richard Cloward, Dr. Nancy Humphries, Dr. Janice Wood Wetzel, Prof. Lorrie Gardella, Prof. Graciella Castex, Dr. George Applebee, and The Hull-House Revival group (i.e., music reflecting the history of social welfare). The symposium has also had key note speakers such as leading authorities including the State of Connecticut Attorney General and nationally recognized researchers.

The faculty has been very involved in University life, collectively serving in almost every elected capacity within the governance structure, serving in various appointed positions at the pleasure of the administration, and advocating for change toward greater excellence within the University community.

Over the years the curriculum has evolved too. Branching out from the traditional BSW curriculum, WCSU’s program has added a yearlong Community Organizing Project. Topics have included: in 1990 advocating for a child care center on campus (which became a reality within a few years); community education on AIDS bringing the AIDS Memorial quilt to campus; hosting fairs to reduce violence and promote cultural understanding, and introducing legislation in Hartford toward those goals; building a websites to educate others about hate crimes, and conducting data based research which lead to subsequent initiatives, hosting regional meeting on immigration and leading the University in a campaign against human trafficking.

A Senior Integrative Seminar has been added as well. This capstone course uses a case study format and requires students to integrate their professional values, knowledge and skills in the final semester of the senior year. A Cultural Diversity course is offered yearly. The required research course was brought into the Department in 1997 and electives in AIDS and Child Welfare have been added. Additionally, the Department is participating in the Freshman Cluster course concept begun in 2000, pairing Introduction to Social Work with American Studies and American History. Elective courses in the Department over the years have included: Aging; Sex Drugs and Violence; AIDS: A Social Work Perspective; Writing for the Human Service and Health Care Professions; and Child Welfare. The Department was part of an interdisciplinary team developing a graduate level Certificate Program in Gerontology, and has offered courses in the Honors Program.

The Department has strengthened its community bonds over the years. In 1983, a conference on childcare was held at the University. For a number of years, the department hosted the CSU-BSW student conference. The Department also helped to create the Coalition United to Stop Gun Violence, and participated in the Alliance for Justice’s First Monday program. Voter Registration has been a focus for recurring social action. The Executive Forum, which is a collaborative with the WCSU Management Department, has become an integral part of the Department and University, with generous support from the Fairfield County Community Foundation, the United Way of Northern Fairfield County, the WCSU Foundation, and the Norman Morris Foundation.

Additionally, the community and our alumni have supported the Department with financial contributions, providing agency training for student practica, serving on our Community Advisory Committee and on ad hoc committees for special projects, and attending and participating in events sponsored by the Department. Recently, an annual alumni gathering has been added.

The Department has been recognized nationally by receiving the Influencing State Policy Award in 2000 and 2001. The faculty are recognized as experts, being invited speakers at national conferences and meetings, making presentations and facilitating sessions at national and regional conferences. They serve on editorial review boards, national, state, regional and local commissions, boards, and committees; they publish in professional journals. Innovative teaching techniques and curriculum ideas have also been highlighted nationally and within the University. Faculty have been trained in “Writing-to-Learn,” and have incorporated these techniques into the curriculum.

From the beginning, the Department has had a student-run Social Work Club, and majors are visible on campus through their projects and leadership roles. A Community Advisory Committee was begun in 1981. The Phi Alpha Honor Society began in 1991, recognizing scholarship in coursework and applied practice. Awards to Outstanding Seniors began in 1978, and an Outstanding Junior Award was added in 1979. Upon Professor Nemzer’s retirement, these awards were named after her. The Alice Fales Service Award began in 1998 when Ms. Fales graduated. The Ray Strolin Writing Competition Award, begun in 2005 in memory of a beloved adjunct, is presented each year at the annual symposium. The Department also offers three scholarships, each named in memory of a late student/graduate in the Department: Scott Andrews, Laura Duffy and Craig Lundwall. It is the generosity of graduates and friends that supports all these awards.


As noted earlier, the 1970’s were marked by Department growth and flexibility albeit with fits and starts. These challenging beginnings were typical of those years in social work education. Once stabilized, the Department was successful in its quest for accreditation. The decade of the 80’s was marked by the Reagan years in national politics which de-emphasized human/social services. As a result, fewer students majored in Social Work and the Department struggled to keep social work issues on the agenda. During this period the University administration continued to support the program. The 1990’s brought another change, with Social Work again a valued service career. The number of majors increased, as did the opportunities for extending the Department’s influence on campus and in the region. This continues into the new millennium. Indeed, because of increasing enrollment of students as social work majors from 2003 to 2007, the Department was approved for a new, additional full-time tenure-track faculty beginning Fall 2008.

The original mission of the Department was to “create a cadre of qualified well trained professional entry level social workers to serve the region.” That mission continues to be fulfilled. With several hundred graduates, many of whom are practicing social workers in the CT area, the Social Work Department has indeed provided well-qualified professionals to serve the region. Many have returned to the program by serving as field instructors and/or supervisors for current students. Others have connected in the community through interagency collaborations, advocacy actions, or by engaging in peer supervision and informal supports. We thrill at the stories we hear of our graduates meeting together professionally and discovering the WCSU Department of Social Work connection.