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Alumni Gather to Remember the Early Days of Social Welfare at UCLA Graduates from the 1950s and 1960s were honored at a luncheon celebration bridging then and now

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For some UCLA alumni that gathered at the Faculty Center on Tuesday, being on campus brought up memories of crossing the arroyo bridge to classes in Quonset huts, just part of life as graduate students at the “Southern Branch” of the University of California.

But for the 28 alumni that came for a reunion luncheon, all former students that graduated from UCLA’s School of Social Welfare between 1950 and 1969, the return to Westwood was a chance to see bigger changes that have happened since the early days of the program. Student enrollment of a few dozen has grown to more than 200 students this year. Faculty positions have doubled and then doubled again, from only two tenured professors in the early 1950s to 13 today, with an additional seven field faculty providing experiential training. A focus on clinical practice, or “micro” orientation, has widened to encompass consideration of “macro” issues such as community development and advocacy.

In the face of these changes, however, the department celebration made clear that some things have remained the same. As they sat with current students, staff and members of the faculty, the common threads in the field became evident.

“The school kept saying ‘Don’t focus, be open'” when she was a student, Ruth Sugerman MSW ’67 (above right) said. “Social workers can do so many interesting things. I was really inspired by the school of social work telling me that once I had my degree it was just a start.”

For Sugerman, her UCLA education “was just a wonderful opportunity for me to grow and develop as a social worker and a person.”

Sophia Poster MSW ’52 (below right) agreed. “Everything I learned at UCLA was wonderful to me,” she said. “I was so exhilarated.”

Poster believes that students following her are on a similarly exciting journey. “If you’re inspired to be a social worker it’s one of the greatest experiences you’ll have, dealing with people and their ‘inner self'” she said. “How many of us know the other person in ourselves? A social worker can do that.”

Social work has been taught at UCLA for 67 years, and includes more than 3,300 alumni in master’s and doctoral programs of Social Welfare. Luncheon attendees learned other key facts from Department Chair Todd Franke and UCLA Luskin Dean Franklin D. Gilliam Jr., Second-year student Dawnette Anderson also delivered remarks at the event, sharing her experience as a foster youth and describing her path to graduate study.

To Anderson and her fellow students, Arthur Nelson MSW ’57 offered some straightforward words of encouragement: “There’s a lot that needs to be done in our society. The UCLA Department of Social Welfare prepares you very well for what is ahead of you.”

More photos from the event