October 19, 2018  

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USM Will Have Majority of Presenters, Posters at State Social Work Conference

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University of Southern Mississippi faculty, staff, students and alumni will make nearly half of the presentations at the annual conference this year for the Mississippi chapter of the National Association of Social Workers.

Overall, 25 individuals with ties to the School of Social Work will be presenting at 17 of the 37 NASW sessions – including closing remarks from Dr. Michael Forster – at the conference March 7-9 in Biloxi, Mississippi. Five of the 17 presentations are by social work alumni who are working as professional practitioners or in academia.

“The annual social work conference is a great event that brings social workers together from across the state for a few days,” says Dr. Tim Rehner, director of the School of Social Work. “It is a time for encouraging one another and for networking.

“The conference also provides an opportunity for social workers from across the state to partner, plan, and collaborate on social action agendas for the year. Of course for me, it is a wonderful time to catch up with alumni and to highlight the great work being done by faculty, students and alumni from the Southern Miss School of Social Work.”

Prevailing themes for the USM presentations are social work practice, politics and voter engagement, health access, and mental health. But topics also range from using child advocacy studies to strengthen child protective services, to training persons with disabilities and older adults to better manage their health, to the role of social workers in supporting individuals who “come out of the closet” in Christian communities.

Three individuals will present twice: Forster, whose closing session is titled “Beyond the ‘Resistance’ – Winning the World We Want”; School of Social Work Director Dr. Tim Rehner; and Sherry Gilkey, the school’s academic and advisement specialist.

In addition to professional presentations, 22 USM social work students, including three undergraduates, represent 17 of the 21 accepted student posters at the conference. Last year, 14 of the 21 student posters were from USM students.

One graduate student, Krystal Bradley of Purvis, Mississippi, is part of two poster projects. Three student posters focus on the resiliency of communities in Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast after disasters, while other topics include mental health, education, racism and food insecurity.

Several students have previously presented posters, including JoJo Virgil, a senior from Petal, Mississippi, and Lindsey Hardin, a graduate student from Hattiesburg, both of whom competed at NASW last year.  Virgil’s poster, in fact, won first-place honors at both the NASW and the Alabama-Mississippi Social Work Education conferences in 2017. Those posters and this year’s focused on racism.

Virgil says the experiences will help prepare him for a career in advocacy or politics. “People who are politicians up ‘there’ don’t eat down ‘here’ at the table with individuals like you or me or the school teacher,” he says. “They don’t step outside their comfort zone, so they can’t relate to what’s going on. My long-term goal would be to advocate for oppressed populations by making laws and policies.”

Hardin’s work focuses on the correlation between third grade students’ literacy and their class behavior: externalizing or internalizing symptoms such as acting out or withdrawing. She hopes to publish her research along with Dr. Laura Richard of the School of Social Work. They identified a gap in literacy research regarding behaviors. “There is no exact study to break apart behaviors,” Hardin says. “We are trying to get more specific with the symptoms.”

School personnel are also introducing a new initiative to keep attendees focused on staying healthy at the conference: hotel-friendly exercises, yoga and ballroom dancing sessions, a group walk and healthy snacks and meals. Participants can score their activities, and the high point-earner will win an award.

Learn more about the School of Social Work’s presentations.