SocialWork@Simmons Student Life Offerings — The Student Advisory Board

To highlight the supportive and collaborative community that awaits prospective SocialWork@Simmons students, we are publishing a series of blog posts that feature many of our student life offerings. 

When SocialWork@Simmons reached its first birthday in summer 2015, Program Director Dr. Dana Grossman Leeman reached out to students to see if there was interest in creating a student group that would collaborate with the administration, faculty, and staff.

“I believe that participatory governance is essential. That students should have a voice, that they should have a way to have direct access to administration to communicate their needs,” said Dr. Grossman Leeman.

The students who participated in the exploratory conversations chose to establish a Student Advisory Board (SAB) rather than a traditional student government. The SAB officially launched in January 2016 and has already made significant impact on the SocialWork@Simmons community.

What Does the Student Advisory Board Do?

At its core, the SAB is designed to help the online program evolve and meet student needs. The SAB connects SocialWork@Simmons students to the School of Social Work faculty and administration, giving the entire online student body a voice to those that have the authority to make change.

Members of the SAB meet monthly and operate without faculty oversight. 

“There is no playbook available for us to use as a guide,” SAB Chairman Alberto Chang said. “We have to exercise innovation, creativity, and leadership.”

The SAB forms its own agendas and maintains and posts minutes to keep the student community informed of its actions. When members are ready to share concerns or review topics with the school, Dr. Grossman Leeman is invited to meet with the group. After the initial meeting, she presents the students’ needs and concerns to the broader leadership team and administration at Simmons to decide how the suggestions will be addressed. Once she has done this, she reports to the board on any progress that has been made.

The SAB interviews faculty and students for a bimonthly series of profiles that are sent to the online student and faculty community. The board also submitted a research proposal to the Simmons College Institutional Review Board so it can start to regularly survey students about their experience in the program.

A Training Ground for Advocacy

Dr. Grossman Leeman said she believes that “by being involved in participatory governance, social workers learn how to become advocates,” and through the SAB, students are able to gain experience meeting with authority figures and advocating for others.

“If they have that experience in school, they may be more apt to take on those roles in their communities, school committees, and local government,” she said.

Chang and Vice Chair Kim Mathews agree that their involvement is helping them become stronger social workers and advocates.

 “This service opportunity early in my social work education will serve me well as I interact with clients; listen to their needs, interests, and concerns; and advocate on their behalf to empower them to make their own lives better,” Mathews noted.

Getting Involved

 The SAB is a volunteer student group that includes representatives from all SocialWork@Simmons cohorts and geographic regions. The SAB is built upon a core group of 14 students, including four members who serve as executive leadership and who meet monthly and serve at least two academic terms. Any student interested in getting involved in the SAB can reach out to a current member for more information.

So why are students motivated to join the SAB?

Chang said he wanted to feel more connected to his peers in the program who reside across the country, while Mathews said she was seeking service opportunities that would also allow her to build connections with her colleagues.

“I saw service on SAB as a way to advocate, along with my fellow SAB representatives, on behalf of our colleagues to effect positive change,” she said. 

Regardless of whether or not new students choose to get involved in the group, the SAB gives all SocialWork@Simmons students the opportunity to enrich the online student experience. By providing a voice to the leadership and administration of the Simmons School of Social Work, the SAB ensures that all students’ thoughts, concerns, and suggestions for a better SocialWork@Simmons are heard.