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Professor Jennifer Obenshain: “The world needs more social workers.”

Empathy is a fundamental piece of social work education and Jennifer Obenshain, Clinical Associate Professor and Master of Social Work Online program coordinator, says it has transformational potential for social work students and the world.

“Social work education widens your lens, so you understand your clients and their unique environments,” Obenshain said. “Sometimes, client challenges and successes are not the result of the individual alone; they may also result from what’s happening around them.”

This holistic view deepens social workers’ understanding of their clients and creates a foundation for client growth and empowerment. “No matter what challenges exist for a client or community, there are always strengths. It is only by letting those strengths bubble up and building on them that change can happen,” she said. “It truly transforms the way you view your world.”

A collage with photos of Dr. Obenshain in a mask and regalia and with her family in Boise State gear.
Photos provided by Jennifer Obenshain.

Two decades of experience and earning a doctorate in 2021

The NASW code of ethics first drew Jennifer Obenshain to the field. The powerful, transformative potential of her field motivated her to complete her doctorate this year.

27 years ago, Dr. Obenshain had achieved her bachelor’s degree in history at Boise State and immediately started to think about graduate school. “A friend gave me a copy of the NASW Code of Ethics, and after reviewing it, I thought, ‘Wow, this really aligns with my values.’”

Since acceptance into the Master of Social Work program at Boise State and interacting with thousands of clients and social work students, she feels content with the path she chose. “There are days that social work is difficult, but I have never regretted my choice to be a part of it.”

Over two decades have passed, and Dr. Obenshain is just as passionate about her field as when she started. Her desire to learn more and give the best to her students led her to enroll in an online clinical doctorate program recently. “The world has changed in 25 years, along with our knowledge of neuroscience, epigenetics and environmental influences,” she explained. “I was motivated to learn more so we could incorporate it into our curriculum, and I could also incorporate it into my clinical practices.” Dr. Obenshain graduated from the University of Tennessee Knoxville with a Doctorate of Social Work in clinical practice and leadership in 2021.

Master of Social Work Online achieves 1,000 students

In late 2015, after teaching for Boise State as an adjunct faculty and partnering with field placements in the community, Dr. Obenshain joined Boise State full-time as the program coordinator for the new Master of Social Work Online program. Since admitting their first 25 students in spring 2016, the program now celebrates the fifth anniversary as one of the most popular online programs at Boise State.

“We have 410 active students this semester and 609 total graduates so we have crossed the 1000 student mark,” Dr. Obenshain said. “We have high retention rates overall — it’s just about over 90%. We have high satisfaction from faculty and students in the program, and our students are graduating and getting good jobs across the country.”

Offering high-quality, flexible education

The MSW Online team’s dedication to delivering high-quality, flexible education is why it continues to experience success and growth. “The online program is not something that students can just sail through, and it is rigorous. We want it to be.” Dr. Obenshain clarified.

“We also want it to be as flexible as it can be — that is the reason that we have primarily asynchronous classes. We recognize that students have busy lives. It is also about meeting the needs of folks who want to come back to school but are place-bound and cannot relocate, which was my case,” she said.

“I wanted to pursue my doctorate, but I couldn’t uproot my family and move somewhere else to pursue my degree, so I am so grateful personally and professionally for the growth of online programs! I can still achieve the education that I want and live in Boise, Idaho.”

Social work helps find common ground

That such empowering, transformative social work education can be delivered to anyone, anywhere is a reason to have hope in these challenging times. Dr. Obenshain agrees.

“Given the division and negativity resulting from the pandemic and politics in the past year, I see social work as a key to helping people find common ground again,” she said.

“Social workers can help us learn how to work together. It’s why we need more social workers in the world.”

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