CMU to offer social work program with Mennonite heart

What will set CMU program apart is the equal importance it places on faculty teaching and research duties.

Canadian Mennonite University is debuting Manitoba’s newest social work program, with a 2023-24 rollout its leaders say signals plans to expand course offerings that complement the small school’s ethos of service and community development.

Last week, CMU announced the imminent launch of an additional bachelor degree on its Winnipeg campus. The four-year program, which is currently being designed to pass national accreditation processes, will allow for advanced entry in Year 2.

“There’s a real need for another program if you’re almost three times as likely to get rejected from a program than you are to get into one in the province right now,” said Jonathan Dueck, vice-president academic and academic dean of the Christian university.

Alumni who are aspiring social workers have been known to call up CMU officials in the past to ask why the institution, which has a full-time student population of approximately 1,000, does not have its own stream, Dueck said Monday.

CMU’s extensive feasibility study concluded social workers are and will continue to be in high demand indefinitely, he said, adding the development of such a program was a natural fit, given the institution’s roots in the Anabaptist faith tradition.

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Founded and supported by Mennonite congregations, CMU embraces principles of community building, peacemaking and social justice, including reconciliation in church and society. In 2023, about 30 per cent of students self-identify as Mennonite.

Dueck described the student population at-large as one that has “a heart-on-a-sleeve desire to do something helpful and good in society” — a key motivator behind ongoing research into both a future teachers college and nursing program.

Students can enrol in local social work programs at the University of Manitoba, Saint-Boniface University and Booth University College, at present.

What will set CMU apart is the equal importance it places on faculty teaching and research duties, as well as its reputation in building “generalists,” because all students take many courses taught by experts from units outside their own, according to the academic dean.

“You’re constantly encountering non-majors in your class, and that’s a feature and not a bug,” he said, noting intentional cross-disciplinary partnerships are as much a part of CMU’s design philosophy as a necessity because there are only 50 full-time instructors.

Board member Heather Block, who has a background in social work, echoed those comments.

“Well-rounded training” will allow CMU graduates to relate to others and understand different perspectives when they do casework, Block said.

The Manitoba College of Social Workers registrar said she looks forward to collaborating with the school to support the licensing of more professionals in the coming years.

“We know that in health, in child welfare, in so many areas and scopes of practice, there are vacancies,” said Barbara Temmerman, executive director of the regulatory body.

Temmerman said there’s increased demand across all sectors of social work in Canada, due to high numbers of requests for mental health services and settlement support. She attributed some of the demand to the fallout of COVID-19 and recent influx of newcomers, including Ukrainian refugees.

CMU officials anticipate the program will graduate some 30-35 students annually once the course is up and running.

Throughout the design process, academics have been meeting with community members, including Indigenous partners, to discuss social work’s ties to colonialism, as well as its ability to create policy changes and disrupt racist structures, Dueck said.

“Mennonites are founded in dissent, as much as they’re founded in ‘do good-ing.’”

This story was originally published in The Free PressIt is republished under a Creative Commons license as part of the Local Journalism Initiative.

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