GCC/Elms College Partnership Graduates First Class with Bachelor’s Degrees in Social Work

May 29, 2015

Six of the graduates receiving Bachelor of Science in Social Work degrees at Elms College’s May 16 commencement exercises at the MassMutual Center in Springfield weren’t typical Elms students, they were the first cohort of students to complete the Elms College Bachelor’s Degree Completion program at Greenfield Community College. The students entered the program in August 2013 with Associate Degrees and attended classes at Greenfield Community College on Saturdays for 20 months, in 10 eight-week sessions. They joined the cohort when they started the program and remained in that group throughout the program. The degree program prepares students to take the state social work licensing exam at the L.S.W. level. In addition, graduates are eligible for advanced standing in many social work graduate programs. Four of the new graduates have applied to graduate school to study toward a Masters in Social Work. One of the graduates, Jennifer Brzezinski, 34, of Greenfield, was honored with Elms College’s Irena Sendler Award*. The Irena Sendler Award is given to an Elms College Senior social work student who has exhibited courage and creativity during coursework, at their field practicums, or at volunteer settings, locally, nationally, or internationally. The Award was presented at Elms College’s 2015 Honors Convocation on May 1.

The new graduates come from diverse backgrounds and have a wide variety of future plans. Ranging in age from their mid-20s to mid-50s, the graduates live in Vermont, Greenfield, Shelburne Falls, and Westfield. All work, some at part-time jobs, some at full-time jobs, some have children. Five of the students attended GCC before entering the Elms BSW program, one had studied at a community college in another state. The Elms/GCC students were required to complete 400 hours in an onsite social work internship. They were individually selected by and completed internships at: Reinventing Justice program, New England Learning Center for Women in Transition, Meadowview Farm Program through ServiceNet, Valley Opportunity Council, RECOVER Project, and Buckley Nursing Home.

Prior to the Elms BSW program, Jennifer Brzezinski received an Associate in Arts/Liberal Arts degree from GCC. She is currently applying to graduate school to continue her education with a Masters in Criminal Justice. Commenting on the Elms BSW program, Jennifer said, “I wanted to return to school, noticed an ad for the program in the paper, inquired, and felt confident that the program was right for me. It allowed me to work during the week and attend class on Saturday. It’s a perfect program for people who want to return to school but also have a full time job. My field placement was with the Reinventing Justice Program. I continue to volunteer within this program. I loved the convenience of attending classes less than two miles from my house! I really enjoyed all of my classes and gained knowledge from each course. The faculty was great and were always available for questions or feedback outside of class.”

“It has been a great honor to receive the Irena Sendler Award for 2015,” said Brzezinski. “I was very surprised when I found out that I was nominated because I didn’t feel I did anything that was out of the ordinary, I just always try to do the right thing for the right reasons and move in the direction of my values for the good of myself and others. I’m truly grateful to receive this award and be recognized for my accomplishments during my education at Elms.”

Michael Lewis, 55, of West Brattleboro Village, VT is one of the new BSW graduates. He received his Associate in Arts/Liberal Arts degree from GCC in 2013 and then completed the Elms BSW program. Lewis said, “The Elms BSW program fit my life and work. The program was accelerated so I could finish in less than two years. Because of that I was blessed with acquiring two degrees in five years. My cohorts were a joy, the professors were top notch, and the shortened semesters worked well for me. I interned at the RECOVER Project in Greenfield, a peer-to-peer participatory center for people in recovery. I intend to acquire a position in the Social Work field and would like to continue to my current work which is with veterans and people who are in recovery. I plan to study for the licensing exam and obtain my social work license and am exploring the possibility of striving for a Master’s Degree.”

Other graduates included Tanya Colby of Westfield, Barbara Broussard of Shelburne Falls, Elizabeth Fielding and Eric Waite of Greenfield.

Kristine Gomes, Elms College, Assistant Director for Distance Learning Implementation and GCC Coordinator, said, “The collaboration between Elms College and Greenfield Community College is invaluable to the students here and the community as a whole. Students are able to study toward a Bachelor’s degree close to their homes. I remember fondly one student who came to an information session two weeks before the program was to begin. We talked and after a mad rush of application materials, she walked in the door slightly overwhelmed at being back at college. She is leaving as a confident and articulate graduate of Elms College with a degree in Social Work while earning accolades along the way. The Elms College and GCC partnership works collaboratively to provide all students the opportunity to be successful for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

Elms College has offered Bachelor’s Degree Completion Programs at GCC since August, 2013. The intent of the Elms College Bachelor’s Degree Completion Programs is to expand baccalaureate degree opportunities for students and alumni of GCC as well as graduates of other colleges in the region who hold Associate degrees. Through this agreement, students build on their education at GCC and earn a bachelor’s degree from Elms College on the GCC campus in Greenfield. Elms College offers several bachelor’s degree programs at GCC, including: Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees in Social Work and Business Management and Marketing, and a Bachelor of Arts (B.A) degree in Early Care and Education.
Kathleen Vranos, Dean of Business, Information Technology, Professional Studies, and Social Sciences said, “GCC is extremely proud of the students who have graduated and been honored by the Bachelor of Arts program in Social Work offered by Elms College on the GCC Main Campus.  The partnership between our colleges was designed to empower local students to pursue their goals in higher education while balancing the demands of life.  These graduates embody the realized hopes of that partnership.  We congratulate the graduates.”

For more information about how to get started at GCC for the Fall semester or to learn more about Bachelor’s Completion Programs located on the GCC Main Campus, join us Thursday, June 18 for Enrollment Day beginning at 3 p.m.- 7p.m.  Apply, take placement tests, get help with financial aid and register for Fall courses.  A special information session on bachelor’s degree completion programs will be held at 5 p.m.  Visit admissions@gcc.mass.edu or call 413-775-1801. 

By Mary McClintock, ’82