The University of Alabama

Chinese Professor to Study Master of Social Work Program Structure at UA

Dr. Wanhong Gao is studying the structure of UA's MSW program this semester.

Dr. Wanhong Gao is studying the structure of UA’s MSW program this semester.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Dr. Wanhong Gao has returned to The University of Alabama’s School of Social Work to serve as a visiting scholar in an ongoing collaborative to help shape master’s level social work instruction in China.

Gao, who briefly visited the school in the fall of 2013, will reside in Tuscaloosa for three-and-a-half months and observe classroom and online instruction of the school’s Master of  Social Work program. Gao is the social work department chair at Yunnan University in Kunming, P.R. China. Her primary research foci are child mental health and child welfare.

“I would like to learn how to begin good MSW programs because MSW programs in China are still very new,” Gao said. “We only began our MSW program (in China) four years ago, so many universities in China do not know how to build a good MSW program, such as how to arrange courses and how to begin the field education in each area. I’m also very interested to learn the courses in implanting an online program.”

Over the next three years, the UA School of Social Work will work directly with Yunnan University to help develop teaching resources for master’s level social work programs. The partnership also will provide faculty exchanges and research collaborations.

Yunnan University, located in Southwest China, will serve as the lead institution for multiple universities in its region. Yunnan is one of seven Chinese universities in various regions, each partnered with a school from the United States.

UA School of Social Work faculty members Drs. Debra Nelson-Gardell, Gordon MacNeil, Carol Drolen, Javonda Williams and Lucinda Roff, dean emeritus, have made trips to China in the last two years. Both sides developed plans for American faculty to provide seminars on teaching social work – primarily about working with children, adolescents and the elderly – in China during the summer of 2013.

Roff said there’s a possibility of establishing more regular visiting scholars programs and collaborating on research between UA and Chinese faculty.

“The partnership is very important, because many universities in China are just beginning a MSW program,” Gao said. “We don’t know how to teach it, but in America there is a long history and many experiences we can learn.”

Gao said some of the issues plaguing Yunnan Province are poverty and substance abuse due to the proximity to Myanmar, a hub for heroin production and trafficking. Yunnan is a very diverse province, too, as more than 26 ethnic minority groups account for 30 percent of the population.

“There’s the potential for very positive growth,” Nelson-Gardell said. “Probably in 25 years, a large proportion, perhaps the majority of the world’s social workers, will be in China. Social work will be very much influenced by China – it’s such a large country.  Having the opportunity to help with the profession’s development is very exciting for me.”

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.