School of Professional Studies

Social Work

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. 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, Dr. Lynne Clark and currently 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, 2005, and in 2013 in received its unconditional reaffirmation of accreditation through 2022.

Professor Emeritus Bea Nemzer retired in 1990 and Professor Patti Ivry took over as Chair, hiring Dr. David Iaccona-Harris for one year, and now retired Professors Emeritus Professor Marjorie Steinberg, Professors Emeritus Dr. Phyllis Ross, and Dr. Robert Veneziano. Dr. Kit Hinga joined the faculty in 2005, Dr. Deneen Harris 2007, Dr. Sharon Young in 2011, Professor Rebecca Wade–Rancourt in 2012, and Professor Karen Brown in 2015.
Over the years, adjunct faculty in the Department have included Roz Kopfstein, Edgar Colon, Robert Page, Thomas Kidder and Beverly Kidder, 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, Heloise “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, Meg Currie, Ann Cook, Ileana Velazquez, Joanne Santiago, Sean Boyl, Sean Richards, Evy  Brescia, Arlette Werner, Kristen Selleck, April Moreira, Nadine Dechaausay, and Courtney Cullinan.

From 2001 – 2004, Professor Marjorie Steinberg served as the Department chair. In 2004, Dr. Robert Veneziano assumed the position of Department chair, followed by Professor Patti ivry reassuming the Chair in 2013.
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. The Department has also benefitted from the contributions of the work/study students assigned to us each semester.

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. The require Cultural Diversity and Research were brought into the Department and electives in AIDS, Aging, Professional Writing, Mental Health, and Child Welfare have been added.

The Department has strengthened its community bonds over the years by hosting and/or co-sponsoring conferences, training opportunities, speakers and events. Additionally, the community has 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 events sponsored by the Department.

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 six scholarships, 3 named in memory of a late student/graduate of the Department: Scott Andrews, Laura Duffy and Craig Lundwall. The Martha Bernstein/Patti Ivry Scholarship was created by graduate Evan Bernstein in memory of his grandmother and in honor of Patti ivry- two very influential women in his life. In addition there is a Pay It Forward scholarship provided by an anonymous donor, and a Community Advisory Committee/Alumnae Scholarship. It is through the generosity of graduates and friends these scholarships are supported.

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 almost 1000 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 given back to the program by serving as field instructors and/or supervisors for current students. Others have become mentors through the Departments Mentoring Program, and still others have connected in the community through interagency collaborations, advocacy actions, or by engaging in peer supervision and informal supports. We are delighted by the stories we hear of our graduates meeting professionally, and discovering the WCSU Department of Social Work connection. May it continue!

Submitted by:
Patricia W. Ivry, MSW, Professor of Social Work and Past Chair
Beatrice K. Nemzer, MSW, Faculty Emeritus and First Department Chair
Rob Veneziano, MSW, Ph.D. Former Chair
September 2007