Social work department to change its make-up

Social work department to change its make-up

Next year, the social work department will its lose long-time program director, Bob Birkey.

Birkey has been teaching at GC since 1975, making him the longest-serving current faculty member. He has served as social work program director for the past 18 years.

In his 37 years of teaching, Birkey has led an SST unit in Belize, completed his Ph.D. at the University of Notre Dame, achieved accreditation and multiple re-accreditations of the Social Work Program and completed sabbatical research in Greece.

For Birkey, retirement means having a chance to pursue projects and interests that he has been unable to focus on while maintaining a full-time director position. These include traveling, spending time with his guitar, working on family and ancestral research and looking into projects that have been on hold for a number of years.

It is also likely that Birkey will remain active on campus by teaching one or two courses in the accelerated social work program.

While retirement is a prospect that Birkey looks forward to, he says he will miss the students, faculty and staff with whom he has worked. Over the years, he has witnessed considerable changes in student demographics, curriculum and technology, but he asserts that the students have remained of high caliber. There is one aspect of the current group of students that Birkey finds considerably notable.

“I believe this generation of GC students is increasingly accepting (not just tolerant, but truly accepting) of diversity and committed to inclusion of marginalized persons,” said Birkey. “My generation still has much to learn from them.”

Another significant characteristic of GC as it appears today is the role of technology. When Birkey began teaching, there were no personal computers, cell phones or fax machines. Birkey said, “I remember a committee meeting in which the need for computers was being discussed and I made the comment that I could not imagine ever needing to have one in my office. And of course we had no idea the iPad was coming down the pike.”

The current chair of the social work department, Jeanne Leichty, will take on Birkey’s previous role of program director in addition to her current position. Leichty is a former student of Birkey’s and feels that his contributions to the social work program made it one she wanted to teach in. “He has a wonderful sense of humor, keeps a keen eye on current events and politics, and analyzes them succinctly and boldly,” said Leichty. “He’s a big part of why I enjoy coming to work.”

Joining the social work department is Gilberto Perez. Perez currently lives in Goshen with his wife and three children. For the past ten years, he has been the program director at Northeastern Center. Perez developed the Bienvenido program, which is targeted to help communities and community leaders provide points of connection and orientation for new immigrants. In 2008, Perez received the Indiana Commission on Hispanic/Latino Affairs award for his involvement in mental health and community development.

Due to his experience with immigration policy and reform, his strengths as a bilingual and bicultural teacher and his working relationship with government representatives, Leichty said, “Perez brings a degree of experience that we think will translate very well into the program.” Perez has already begun teaching classes this semester, but accepted a full-time professor position that will start in July.

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Written by Maddie Ruth

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