By MARTY LEVINE
Brooke Rawls always thought of herself a teacher as she managed social workers in various healthcare settings, most recently UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital.
Now that she is a teacher — starting as a faculty member in the School of Social Work in June — she still keeps her hand in social work practice, working occasional weekend shifts back at Magee.
“I love direct practice and working with families,” Rawls says. And yet, she adds, “I've always wanted to teach. I've always been the type of person who enjoys passing on my knowledge to others.”
That’s why she is particularly happy, she says, to be the academic coordinator here for the Child Welfare Education for Baccalaureates (CWEB) program, of which she is a graduate.
CWEB is a state program at Pitt and 14 other social-work schools in Pennsylvania, designed to overcome challenges to the child welfare system, such as staff shortages and high turnover. The program, Rawls says, is aimed at making undergraduates “engaged, encouraged and passionate about entering the field” of child welfare.
CWEB gives students the chance to experience internships in one of the commonwealth’s 67 child-welfare agencies, then complete their training at the Child Welfare Resource Center in Mechanicsburg, which is overseen by Pitt personnel.
The program offers many student benefits, including some paid tuition, internship stipends and book allowances, while graduates agree to work for a state child-welfare agency for at least their first year of employment.
“We are sending educated, experienced and well-trained social workers straight into the child-welfare field,” Rawls says.
In addition to graduating from CWEB in 2010 at Slippery Rock University, where she received her bachelor of science degree in social work, she earned her master of social work from California University of Pennsylvania in 2014 and, in 2019, her Ph.D. from Robert Morris University in instructional management and leadership.
She wrote her dissertation on the impact of secondary traumatic stress, burnout and compassion fatigue on bereavement doulas (who specialize in aiding families dealing with pregnancy loss or the death of an infant). Today, she is vice president of the local nonprofit, Oli’s Angels, which she founded. It provides doula services and bereavement support to low-income and at-risk families in Pittsburgh, including counseling and funeral planning.
Her other volunteer post is as vice president of cheerleading for Monroeville Gateway Midget Football and Cheerleading Association. She organizes its four cheer teams, making sure its 60 cheerleaders have uniforms and clean poms — “and that they have the best cheer team possible.” It was an activity she enjoyed herself as a youth in Penn Hills.
Rawls has actually been teaching at Pitt as an adjunct since 2019, leading a master’s level integrated health course focused on social work practice in health care. This semester, she is teaching the school’s child welfare course, including an honors version, which attracts future social workers as well as psychology, nursing and other majors.
As CWEB head, “I love going to different schools” — even virtually — to speak about the program and recruit students, “helping them know that, if this is something they want to do, we can make it happen.”
One surprise of the job is the number of conferences she attends to network with others in her field, from New Orleans to California to Harrisburg. But she has more control over her day-to-day schedule than she had at a hospital, she says.
“I feel so honored now to be in this position, getting undergraduates just like me full circle,” she says of her Pitt position. But keeping her hand in practice at the hospital seems important to her too — and not just for her ability to directly help families. It’s also because of the unpredictability of any hospital’s schedule, she says: “I love the craziness.”
Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-758-4859.
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