Among the groups most excited by the opening of the Hunter Student Commons building are the students, instructors and researchers at the Faculty of Social Work.
Since the faculty moved out of the Professional Faculties Building in 2019, its professors and instructors have been teaching in whatever space was available, scattered around campus, while they waited for their new home base to be finished.
“With our move and the global pandemic, it’s been difficult for us to create community over the last few years,” says Dr. Jessica Ayala, BSW’96, MSW’98, PhD’07, vice-dean of the Faculty of Social Work. “In many ways, moving into this beautiful new space feels like a bit of a homecoming.”
In designing the third-floor classroom space, where the majority of social work’s Calgary courses are taught, architects and designers focused on unique features that will help the faculty push its focus on teaching and learning innovation.
New classrooms will enhance valuable practice-skill instruction
The new classrooms facilitate sharing, and furniture can be moved and arranged for a variety of purposes. Importantly, the new space will also accommodate ceremonial smudging, which is central to the faculty’s decolonization commitment, outlined in its recent strategic plan, A Place to Gather.
One of the many career paths in social work involves working in the health-care system. In fact, more social workers are employed by Alberta Health Services than any other allied health field. Some work as advocates, while others work as counsellors. To learn these skills requires special observation rooms for a variety of uses, including simulations with trained actors.
Such simulations are fundamental to clinical social work education, providing students the opportunity to build practice knowledge and skills in a safe setting, prior to using them in real-life situation, says Dr. Angelique Jenney, PhD, Wood’s Homes Research Chair in Children’s Mental Health.
"Traditionally, social workers achieve such skill development through years of direct practice, with supervision from skilled clinicians within practicum and employment settings,” says Jenney, who leads the simulation program for the faculty.
“The use of simulation allows in-the-moment coaching and evaluation for students to try new skills and to make mistakes in a safe learning environment. Developing the simulations in partnership with the clinical expertise of staff at Wood’s Homes further enriches the learning experience by bringing real practice-wisdom into the equation.”
The simulation program was fueled by a 2018 gift from UCalgary alumnus and longtime Wood’s Homes board member Eric Axford, BA’87, and his wife, Diane.
New spaces position faculty to meet growing demand for social workers
The International Federation of Social Workers has estimated that every dollar invested in social work returns a minimum of $3, while building stronger and healthier communities. In Alberta, according to 2021 data from the province, social workers are currently the most in-demand profession, with a job vacancy rate of 9.8 per cent.
“Social workers have never been needed more,” says Dr. Ellen Perrault, BSW’93, MSW’95, PhD’09, dean of the Faculty of Social Work. “Our profession will continue to play a significant role throughout society as we move through the healing and community-building work that is now needed.”
As she walks through the airy and light study and lounge spaces in Hunter Student Commons — already packed with students enjoying the new space — Perrault reflects that the new UCalgary classroom and office space complement the faculty’s beautiful campus in downtown Edmonton and its space at the University of Lethbridge.
“Our goal is to provide high-quality opportunities for future social workers regardless of where they live,” says Perrault. “Our flexible and innovative online programs complement our campus locations across Alberta.
"The Hunter Student Commons will provide our students with opportunities to practise their community-building and clinical skills, which means we’ll be graduating generations of social workers uniquely prepared to lead positive change in society.”