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Field Tested

Giving News

By Andrea Campetella

Bain and Avera leave a lasting legacy benefiting future social work students.

Bonnie Bain and Jean Avera leave a lasting legacy benefiting future social work students.

For friends and former UT colleagues Bonnie Bain, BA ’65, MS ’67, and Jean Avera, there is no better teacher than experience. That’s why they’re passionate about field education at the School of Social Work and why they teamed up to create the Jane Addams Field Education Development Endowment.

While working in the field, social work students are placed in agencies throughout the community, where they acquire hands-on experience with close supervision and support from both a field instructor and a faculty liaison.

It’s a win-win-win: Students hone their social work skills, while families and individuals receive help maintaining their emotional and physical well-being. The agencies, meanwhile, get an injection of youthful energy, enthusiasm, and human resources.

Avera and Bain witnessed the value of field education during their many years working together as clinical faculty at the School of Social Work. Avera had served as one of the early Peace Corps volunteers in Ecuador from 1965 to 1967. The hands-on training she received there deeply affected and inspired her interest in the field education aspect of the school’s curriculum.

“Field education is transformational for social work students,” Avera says. “Studying from a book and taking a test are necessary, but getting out into the community and working with people — those are the kinds of experiences that fundamentally change students as they go through the social work program.”

As for Bain, she devoted her professional life to the guidance and support of students as they undertake the process of field study. She taught and supervised internships for graduate students for 31 years. The two women’s friendship and shared belief in the value of fieldwork for students led them to jointly fund the endowment.

Social work graduate student Alejandra Spector

Graduate student Alejandra Spector, left, interacts with a staffer at El Buen Samaritano in Austin. Spector helps the health clinic’s patients maintain their emotional and physical well-being.

“Students’ self-awareness and confidence just explode,” Bain says. “As field liaisons, we had the joy of watching them pulling everything together, integrating their experience and blossoming as social workers. Our school has one of the best field programs in the country, and we wanted to support it.”

The school currently has more than 200 field placements throughout Austin, across the nation, and abroad. The endowment helps to support the agency-based social workers who supervise students.

Naming it for Addams, the Progressive Era reformer who is considered the mother of social work in the U.S., just seemed right. “She was an amazing woman,” Avera says. “She worked in all areas: for peace, for women’s rights, for children, for education, against sex trafficking. She truly represents the broadness of the social work profession.”

“Social work trains professionals to work with people at the individual, group, and community level,” Bain says. “But more important for us — and this was one of Jane Addams’ biggest contributions — social work is about social justice, about making this world a better place for everyone.”

Photos by Miguel Gutierrez Jr.

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