Social Work

Social work is an empowering profession. Individuals who are committed to helping others, and to promoting social and economic justice will find a wide range of meaningful career options in the social work field. For example, some of the settings where social workers are employed include schools, mental health agencies, hospitals and medical clinics, family and children's agencies, criminal justice programs, addictions facilities, women's and youth shelters, nursing homes, community development organizations, and government agencies. Within these various settings, social workers draw on the strengths of individuals, families and communities to help people discover and use their problem-solving capacities. We counsel individuals and families, facilitate therapeutic and educational groups, link people with needed resources and expand opportunities through social advocacy and public policy analysis.

History of Niagara's Accredited Department of Social Work

The social work program was initiated and developed by two professors in Niagara's sociology department, Dr. Roslyn Gerard and Dr. Stuart B. Whitney, in the early 1970s. At this time, there were many sociology students who wanted careers in social work and there was a strong need in the community for child welfare practitioners. At that time, students only had the opportunity to enroll in sociology electives with a social work practice emphasis. Faculty taught these courses with doctoral degrees in sociology and the master's in social work degree. The results of a feasibility study among sociology alumni, current students and community agencies strongly indicated that the development of a separate social work degree was needed.

In 1974, the late sociology professor, Dr. Nicholas Caggiano, submitted a proposal to the university's Board of Trustees to create a new social work degree program that would be housed within the sociology department. There was great enthusiasm in the university community for this initiative because the establishment of a professional degree program would serve and assist the poor and oppressed in the surrounding communities and it would help fulfill the university's Vincentian mission.

The proposal was approved and, in 1975, Steve Knezevich, M.S.W., became the first social work program chair. Two other faculty members joined him, Larry Mallakie, M.S.W., and Ann Scheffer, M.S.W., who was appointed as the field coordinator. Approximately 20 students enrolled in the program.

Later in May of 1976, the social work program was approved by the New York State Education Department as a registered degree program. In 1980, under the leadership of Professor John Hickey, the social work program became an independent academic department within the College of Arts and Sciences. This autonomy was perceived as an asset for accreditation by CSWE. Dr. Roslyn Gerard was the main author of the first self study.

The social work department was successfully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in January 1982 and, at that time, had approximately 40 students enrolled. The majority of these students were traditional age full-time students. After its initial accreditation in 1982, the department has been continuously reaccredited, most recently in 2012.

Since its initial accreditation, the department has undergone many changes. The number of students enrolled in the department has expanded to an average of 75 students each year. This number includes traditional and non-traditional students and American and Canadian students, who attend on either a full-time or part-time basis.

The social work department has four full-time faculty members ( All faculty members have a Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) and have many years of practice experience in Chicago, Boston, and Western New York in a range of settings. Three members of the faculty have  Ph.D.'s, while the 4th member of the faculty is working on completion of her dissertation.