GAFFNEY, S.C. (courtesy limestone.edu) — Limestone College’s second graduate-level degree program is officially on the way.
Plans are being finalized to add an online Master of Social Work (MSW) program that is expected to begin in the summer of 2020. Limestone has offered an online Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree since 2012.
Approval was recently granted from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) for Limestone to begin offering the MSW. The first cohort, which will be restricted to South Carolina residents who already hold a Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) from a Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) accredited program, is expected to begin in July. Students from outside of South Carolina will be accepted in the near future. Moving forward, the MSW is projected to have start dates in both January and July.
According to Jackie Puckett, Associate Dean and Director of Social Work Development, Limestone will begin accepting applications for the new program soon. Students with a BSW degree and a minimum grade point average of 3.0 will be eligible for admission into Limestone’s advance standing MSW program.
The College currently offers a Social Work degree at the undergraduate level, both in the traditional classroom setting and online. The online program was ranked in the top 20 online BSW programs for 2019 by thebestschools.org. Under the leadership of Puckett and the Social Work program’s Director Henry Hiott, the Bachelor of Social Work is the second largest degree program that Limestone currently offers.
The program’s mission is to prepare students for beginning generalist practice using knowledge of professional self, social work values, and interpersonal skills to improve quality of life and affect social change. Fully accredited by the CSWE, the major is appropriate for students planning careers in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, schools, child welfare and human service agencies, hospitals, settlement houses, community development corporations, and private practices.
“The MSW is a great fit for Limestone because of our popular and well-established undergraduate program in Social Work, and because of the experience we have offering online degree programs here,” explained Puckett, who has been on Limestone’s Social Work faculty for nearly 20 years. “Because we have classroom sites across the state, our goal is to build an MSW program that feels like it’s in a traditional classroom because we can easily offer face-to-face assistance.
“Having an MSW program makes coming to Limestone for a BSW even more attractive, since students can complete both their undergraduate and their master’s degrees with us,” he continued. “We have studied adding the MSW for years, and our goal is to make our program world-class. It’s been a long process to get approval from SACSCOC, and our department received assistance from every level of the College to get this done.”
During his time Limestone, Puckett has served in many vital roles, including tenured faculty member, Associate Dean, Director of the Social Work program for 14 years, and Division Chair for Behavioral Sciences for five years.
Puckett acknowledged the support of Limestone’s Administration in getting the MSW off the ground, including the College’s President Dr. Darrell Parker. He also said that Nursing Director Dr. Amber Williams, Director of Graduate Studies in Recruiting & Corporate Relations Kristen Beddingfield, Director of Graduate Studies in Enrollment and Admissions Adair Hudson, Dean of Accreditation Dr. Shelly Meyers, and Director of Counseling Services Mary Campbell were all instrumental in bringing the Limestone MSW program to fruition.
An MSW opens additional career opportunities in the profession, including the ability to teach at the college level. Although some social workers only need a bachelor’s degree, clinical social workers must have a master’s and two years of post-master’s experience in a supervised clinical setting. Clinical social workers must also be licensed in the state in which they practice.
Employment of social workers is projected to grow 11 percent over the next 10 years, which is much faster than the average for most other occupations. That will provide various employment opportunities for graduates of the MSW program. Employment growth will be driven by increased demand for healthcare and social services.
“We are looking to meet our MSW students where they are,” Beddingfield noted. “We have the pieces in place to set up our students for success from start to finish in their educational journeys.”
Building upon the success of its traditional Social Work degree, Limestone started offering the BSW online in January of 2015. Many of Limestone’s current Social Work students are working adults who study online or attend classes at one of Limestone’s six evening sites across South Carolina.
Students will be able to graduate from Limestone’s MSW program in as little as 18 months, taking two classes in eight-week increments. Because of Limestone’s accreditation on the undergraduate level, the practicum for its advanced-standing MSW students will be reduced. The MSW program will be reviewed by CSWE, once classes begin.
“Limestone is already a nationally-recognized leader in Social Work education,” Parker said. “Offering the MSW will make our program that much stronger, just as we prepare to move to university status in 2020. Jackie and his team, and many others at Limestone, are to be commended for making this happen. Having the best Social Work educator in the state at Limestone certainly speaks to the quality our MSW program will have.”
During the 2019 National Association of Social Workers-South Carolina Chapter Annual Symposium, Puckett was recognized this past March as the Social Work Educator of the Year.
He earned his BSW degree at the University of Virginia at Wise and his Master of Science in Social Work from the University of Tennessee.
The Social Work Educator of the Year award criteria includes being a National Association of Social Workers member who reflects ethics of the social work field; full-time faculty member of a college, department, school, or program of social work; personal and professional integration of experience and education; serves as a role model for students pursuing degrees in social work; advocates on behalf of social workers and clients served; contributor to the knowledge of social work and the public in his or her own areas of expertise; and a person who enhances the relationship between social work practice, research and education. The honor recognizes the best Social Work educator throughout South Carolina.
Puckett started his career at Limestone in 2000, coming from a long career in social work in the fields of Aging, Mental Health, and Program Development. In 1975, he became the youngest federal program director in the United States at that time (at the age of 23) when he became Program Director of Congregated Meals for Mountain Empire Older Citizens.
He served as the Clinical Director for the Emergency Psychiatry Services/Mobile Crisis Program in Charleston from 1987 to 2006 and co-authored the best-selling clinical text, “Comprehensive Emergency Mental Health Care.” He is the winner of teaching awards at Virginia Intermont College, Medical University of South Carolina, and Limestone College where he has twice been the recipient of the Fullerton Award for Excellence in Teaching.
“Jackie helps to build up fellow social workers and even counselors who work for the College,” said Dr. Aubrey Sejuit, a Limestone Social Work Preceptor, at the time the award was presented. “He is collaborative in nature and he cares. We are all so proud to work with such a dedicated and incredible person. He embodies what it means to be a social work educator.”