James Madison University

An Interview with R. Ann Myers

By: Jordan Pye
Posted: March 21, 2012

Since she graduated from the Social Work program in 1969, returned as faculty in 1973 and became Department Head in 1987, Professor R. Ann Myers reflected on the major’s most remarkable changes. But one thing has remained constant:

“Our students, when given the opportunity to participate, make things happen,” Myers said.

Now the department celebrates its 50th anniversary, and these students have their turn in the spotlight during a weeklong celebration that coincides with Social Work month. The program has seen ups and downs in enrollment throughout the past 50 years, since it began in 1962 as part of the sociology and anthropology department, and then received accreditation in 1977 and became its own program twelve years later. The department won the JMU Provost Award for Excellence in Assessment in 2007 and the Award for Outstanding Institutional Practice in Student Learning Outcomes from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) in 2011.

Myers’ teaching and leadership have also earned recognition, and in 1985 the Social Work Department honored her with the Outstanding Alumnus Award. The Virginia Social Work Education Consortium named her as an Outstanding Social Work Educator in 1991, and in 2005 she received the Outstanding Baccalaureate Social Work Director Award from the Association of Baccalaureate Social Work Program Directors.

JMU also recognized Myers in 2006 with the Women of Distinction Faculty Award, and in 2009 she received the Emerti Faculty Legacy Grant. In 2010, JMU named her the Adult Degree Program Faculty Advisor of the Year, and she received the Provost Award for Excellence in Leadership.

“From the beginning there is a huge emphasis on service-learning and getting students into the community to interact with diverse populations,” Myers said. The faculty strives to provide these experiences for students, sometimes by utilizing their own contacts, and have organized student trips to Jamaica, West Virginia, El Salvador and Dominica.

“Our students go to over 50 social work graduate programs and have good reputations there,” Myers said. “It’s a high quality program, and employers and graduate schools seek our students out.”

Maintaining this high standard means producing social workers who are ready to practice, and competence is the ultimate goal. In addition to the curriculum and field placements, seniors must complete an oral exam with faculty as part of their pre-graduation assessment. Alumni think this sets social work students apart, Myers said, because it forces seniors to “pull together what they know and recognize they know more than they think they do.”

In its first year as a separate department, Social Work only had 50 majors. This year the program has 240 majors, allowing for smaller, discussion-based classes that encourage interaction and teach students that relationships are the core of social work. A prominent theme in the anniversary events is family, portraying the department as a family in itself.

Once they move on to grad school, “students say they miss the family they had here and it’s a statement about the faculty and student peers,” Myers said. “That’s one of the things that develops in the program, a strong rapport system.”

On Friday March 23, a daylong celebration for the Social Work department’s 50th anniversary will be held at the Festival Center, featuring student panels, an alumni panel, a keynote speaker, and CEU break-out workshops with the conclusion of a reception.  This event is open to students, alumni, faculty, field supervisors, community professionals and JMU administrators.