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Social Work, Criminal Justice, and Sociology

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Social Work, Criminal Justice, and Sociology

by Sharyn Kopf—Cedarville, Ohio

February 2, 2009

If you’re wondering how social work, criminal justice, and sociology fit into one academic department, join the club. But after talking with Dr. Nelson Henning, chair of the department at Cedarville University, the connection became clear.

“Sociology is the study of human behavior within the context of culture,” says Henning. “Social work and criminal justice put these different theoretical perspectives into action.”

Another very important aspect ties the three disciplines together: Cedarville’s commitment to biblical integration in its academics. For Henning and the rest of the department faculty, it is this distinctive that makes the University’s programs stand out above those at other schools.

Since many of the career tracks related to these degrees are based in a secular setting, having a strong basis in a Christian worldview is vital. Henning adds, “We want to engage students to think critically about how their faith is played out in the study of their profession.”

Patrick Oliver, director of the criminal justice program, agrees. “God has ordained three institutions, and one is government,” he says. “If you work in government, your function is to do a certain job, but your purpose is to glorify Him.”

Though a small major, sociology offers students a study of “group life” or social theory. The degree takes a look at humanistic perspectives on a variety of topics, from family patterns and relationships to pressing contemporary social issues. Career options include social research, criminology, rehabilitation, and social psychology.

“Sociology is the study of human behavior within the context of culture,” Henning says. “And sociologists are large contributors of information to state and national institutions that have an impact on the development of social policy.”

Sophomore Laura Heuzey wasn’t sure what she wanted to do … until she stumbled onto the sociology degree. “It has many electives, which allows me to branch out in different directions,” she says. “Right now, I’m not sure where God will lead me, but with this degree, I feel my options are wide open!”

Law and Order
Though still a relatively young program at Cedarville, the criminal justice major continues to show growth by focusing on two unique distinctives.

First, it offers a career-planning course that students take the second semester of their freshman year. During the class, assessment tools are used to determine if the student is pursuing the right major and, if not, what would be the right one. This is based on four elements: skill set, personality, interests, and values. Another purpose of the course is to help each student write out a career plan for the job they want within their chosen field. The goal is to be in that job within three months of graduation.

“They walk out of Cedarville with a plan,” Oliver says. “I tell them if they are not in a job within 90 days, something’s wrong, because they can be … and should be.”

Oliver has a passion for making sure each student lands the right job. His more than 27 years in law enforcement — which include working for five different law enforcement agencies and serving as chief at four of them — provided Oliver with a vast network that he can use to help Cedarville University students find internships and jobs.

The second distinctive of the criminal justice major is the personal financial management course. When a person applies for a job in criminal justice, the required background investigation includes a credit check. Someone with high debt would have trouble securing a job, since such a person can be prone to unethical behaviors such as stealing and taking bribes.

“We’re the only discipline to require a personal money management course,” says Oliver. “We teach them how to handle money, and we cover the landscape — budgeting, debt management, saving, tithing and giving, investing, insurance, taxes, even making major purchases.”

How Can I Help?
Without a doubt, social workers are some of the most caring, compassionate people in our society. When that is combined with spiritual knowledge and a biblical worldview, these individuals have a great capacity to change lives.

One exciting new initiative in Cedarville’s program is to build an international field experience site for students. The department is currently talking to people in Uganda about this partnership.

“We already require students to gain field experience in a social agency under professional supervision their junior and senior years,” Henning says. “The Cedarville administration is interested in seeing our students have global exposure.”

Naturally, the depth and value of this field work have additional advantages for a social work graduate. For one, he can already have two positions listed on his resume, giving him more experience and making him more marketable.

Henning cites three additional social work distinctives at the University. The first is that the social work program at Cedarville has the largest number of majors within the department itself and is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education. This means a student can take the state licensure test the last semester of her senior year, thus graduating with a diploma and a license; and she can get advanced standing to complete her master’s degree in one year instead of two. Secondly, the benefits of the first distinctive can save the student money.

Finally, Cedarville is careful to teach with a Christian worldview. “Most programs are very secular,” says Henning, “even in private schools. We want students not only to know what they believe and why they believe it but also to think critically about the integration of Christianity into the field of social work.”

For social work junior Sarah Hamilton, choosing the Cedarville program was a no-brainer. Not only was she drawn to the unique integration of biblical faith and professional values, but she also appreciates the fact that it offers this in-depth application of faith without sacrificing a high-quality education.

“Social work graduates have a 100 percent pass rate for the licensure exam,” she shares as one example. She adds, “The education I have received has prepared me for a lifetime of excellence in service, not only in my career but also in life.”

More Information

Learn more about studying social work, criminal justice, or sociology at Cedarville University!