The Garland School of Social Work: far but thriving

By Cameron Bocanegra | Reporter

Go across the highway, take a left on Washington Avenue and go up an escalator to enter the world of the Diana R. Garland School of Social Work, where the faculty and students pride themselves in having two of the four escalators in Waco and using a classroom that use to be the former Wells Fargo Bank vault. After their move in 2011 from the Speight Avenue Parking Garage, faculty and students have experienced a change in their connection to campus.

“The biggest struggle for faculty is the difficulty to connect with our colleagues on campus,” said Dr. Jon Singletary, dean of the School of Social Work and professor. “It really is a challenge for us when we aren’t walking around on the main campus day after day. We just have to be more intentional.”

The faculty regularly plans lunches and meetings with associates from different departments in order to share curriculum concerns, discuss research projects and simply talk about their lives.

The program consists of 155 students made up of 28 males and 127 females, according to the Profile of Social Work Graduate Students.

The students are grouped ranging from 30 – 50 students each. Each cohort stays together for the full academic program, taking the same classes and experiencing the roller coaster of college together.

“While you’re getting really close to your little cohort, you’re also away from everyone else at Baylor,” Waco social work graduate student Paige Shellhorse said. “You have to work hard and go out of your way to stay in touch with campus life.”

Although a social work student may need to leave campus 20 minutes early to make it to class downtown, the location is conveniently near their various field placements for their internships. The students have the sheriff’s department next door, the welfare office a few doors down and Meals on Wheels just three blocks away. While some of the on-campus experience is lost, the students gain a larger experience in the Waco community.

“I feel more connected to Waco as a whole compared to being stuck in the Baylor Bubble,” Shellhorse said. “We’re amidst the city that we’re serving, while also learning how to serve them in the future. When you’re on campus, it’s hard to visualize what I’m going to work with. The reality of social work really strikes you when you’re right in the heart of the community.”

During the first two years of the undergrad program, most of the beginning social work courses are on campus so the students have time to figure out personal transportation if preferred. The city’s downtown transit system also continues to stop at the building, guaranteeing all students a ride to class.

“It gives its own distinct feeling of professionalism when I’m traveling to class to learn how to serve the people in my community,” Shellhorse said. “I’m less connected to the campus, but I’m more connected to the city, resources and people that aren’t connected to Baylor.”