“I tell my students they are how I am changing the world,” said Jeanne Liechty, director of Goshen College’s social work program. She has high standards, and Goshen College is giving students a chance to meet them.

According to Zippia, a website that provides career information across many professions, Goshen College’s social work program was ranked as number one in the state of Indiana. Zippia looked at data in regard to average earnings of graduates, the percentage of the social work majors in the graduating class, and general school performance such as admissions rates, graduation rates, average cost of attendance, and median amount of debt.

Kendra Yoder, a social work professor, added some other reasons as to why GC deserves this honor.

“I think we have a history of an incredible curriculum and program, a group of really committed faculty and I think we really pay attention to the individual,” Yoder said. “Every person’s journey is going to be their own.”

Yoder also explained that Goshen’s program values hands-on practical experience, as evidenced by the three placements social work students need to graduate. These consist of a 20-hour placement for Introduction to Social Work, a 40-hour placement for Social Service Field Experience, and then a 400-hour practicum senior year. This gives students applied work experience from real clients and caseloads,

and prepares them to walk out of the program with confidence.

“I watch students discern for themselves where they imagine themselves being and what they imagine themselves doing,” Yoder said. “I don’t think you can learn that from a book.”

Senior Karina Palos, a social work and public relations double major, values first-hand experience – not just the experience she’s getting, but also the experience her professors have in the field they are teaching in.

“When you read the textbook, they just make it seems so easy,” Palos said. “But when you’re actually in that situation, things aren’t always clear cut. I think the faculty bring a lot of those skill sets and experience.”

Palos herself has had multiple placements.

First, she was at LaCasa working with the local Latino population. Her second placement was at Chandler Elementary, where she realized how much she values education. Her final 400-hour placement will be next semester with BACA, the Behavior Analysis Center for Autism in Elkhart.

Students complete their placements in nearby schools, hospitals, mental health centers, after-school programs, probation and parole services, churches, and more.

Yoder explained that having these three levels of placement gives students different contexts, encouraging them to step outside their comfort zone.

“You don’t necessarily have to specialize and spend your entire career in one area,” said Yoder.

This stand-out factor of the program helps it win awards, but that’s not the goal of the program. In fact, Liechty shared the three formal goals the department set for itself in 2013.

First, the program seeks to provide students with the knowledge, skills, values and ethics that will prepare them for beginning professional generalist social work practice.

Second, it hopes to prepare students to practice effectively with diverse client populations and to advocate on behalf of those who are at risk of exploitation, oppression, and discrimination.

Thirdly, the program prepares students for graduate social work education in areas of advanced specialized practice.

Beyond formalities, Liechty and Yoder both hope for students to use their personal skills and values to propel them forward in the field of social work and help other people.

“My wish for students when they graduate is that they have the vision of themselves as social change agents out in the world, but also have confidence in the skills they have developed,” Yoder said.

“I can’t think of a bigger honor than it is to walk alongside people as their facing major challenges and life issues. It’s a profoundly humbling and powerful feeling knowing that you have that to offer others.”