Distinction in Social Work

The Social Work Program prepares liberally educated professional social workers to ethically serve diverse populations and promote a just global community. Program goals include preparing students:

  • For generalist practice with individuals, families, groups, organizations, and communities of diverse backgrounds
  • Who understand and appreciate a scientific approach to knowledge building and practice
  • Who reflect on and are responsible for their own ethical conduct
  • For lives of service and leadership in the global community

A student who is awarded distinction in social work must demonstrate the ability to integrate knowledge from prerequisite and other liberal arts courses with the knowledge gained in social work foundation courses. Seniors who are awarded distinction in social work will complete independent, integrative academic work in addition to the regular requirements of the major.

Eligibility for Distinction

  • An overall St. Olaf GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • A GPA in courses required for Social Work of 3.5 or higher (including prerequisite courses)

… and completion of the following:

  • Independent academic internship; OR
  • Independent research; OR
  • Independent study; AND
  • A written, integrative reflection of learning through the experience (12–15 pages)

Procedure/Process for Distinction

  1. During junior year, or at least by December of senior year: Consider possible options for distinction work and discuss with faculty if needed.
  2. By the first Friday in March of senior year: Send a note, in writing (email is fine), to the Department Chair stating intention to apply for distinction.
  3. By April 1 of senior year: Submit distinction material (integrative paper and slides for presentation) to the Department Chair. Send as electronic documents.
  4. By mid – April: the Chair will forward the candidate’s work to a committee of department faculty, along with a field supervisor, Program Advisory Committee member, and/or a social work alum familiar with the content area of the distinction work, to review. The Chair will then schedule an oral interview with the candidate and the committee to discuss the work. Shortly after the meeting, the committee makes a decision about whether or not to award distinction. The Chair then notifies the candidate of the decision in writing and sends name(s) of distinction awardee(s) to the Registrar.

Criteria for Distinction

Work deserving distinction includes, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Integration of learning (How was your independent work informed by your social work curriculum? How did the content you learned in your theory, research and practice courses inform your work? How did your broader liberal arts education inform your work? What sources in the social work literature are related to your work?)
  • Connections to competencies (Which competencies did you demonstrate in your distinction project and how? No need to demonstrate all nine!)
  • Illustration of relationship between your independent work and the social work program mission statement
  • Possible connections to experiences in the field (shadowing, practicum, or other internships)…did the experience confirm or challenge other experiences?
  • Implications for your next steps, future career and the social work profession.

Additional Information for Students about Distinction in Social Work

Distinction is awarded to students who show they have gone well above and beyond the requirements of the major in social work. Students should demonstrate how the work they completed was informed by social work theory, methods, research, and ethics – the art and science of social work – and how its completion provides evidence that the student is prepared for generalist social work in a liberal arts context. In other words, how is the conception for, completion of, and written and oral reflection on this work illustrative of social work, as compared to something similar that might be completed by a history or sociology senior at St. Olaf?

All department faculty (including term faculty, if possible) and one reviewer from the social work community who has expertise in the subject area of the work will review the written, integrative academic paper submitted for distinction. The Department generally awards distinction to fewer than 10% of the graduating class each year.

The Presentation of Distinction Work

The presentation and conversation for the distinction work will be scheduled in early to mid – April, after the work is submitted, and will last one hour. The work must be handed in for review by the deadline date. At the distinction meeting:

  • You will provide a brief (10-15 minute) introduction to the work (what inspired you to do this work? What did you do? How does this work apply to the next stage in your professional development?)
  • The committee will then have opportunity to ask questions to clarify and better understand your work (the idea here is to give you a chance to strengthen your possibility of being granted distinction, not to trip you up in any way).
  • The committee will ask you to leave after about 50 minutes, then will discuss your work and make a determination about distinction
  • The Chair will notify you by email within 24 hours about the committee’s decision; formal written notification will follow by early May.

Updated January 2019