JMU social work helps host Rally in the Valley


SUMMARY: JMU along with the social work departments from Eastern Mennonite University, Mary Baldwin and George Mason University hosted the 2016 Rally In the Valley in October.

By: Daniel Vieth '15
Creative Services Student Writer

SW students and faculty at professional conference

Ever since JMU first started the Rally in the Valley event 36 years ago, social work students from around Virginia have attended the professional conference. Each year, different Virginia colleges partner to host the event. This year was JMU’s turn to organize the Rally in the Valley, along with the social work departments from Eastern Mennonite University, Mary Baldwin and George Mason University. The conference was held October 6 - 7 at Massanetta Springs retreat, and was attended by over 250 students and faculty - along with 10 visiting graduate programs. 

Rally in the Valley was originally the brainchild of JMU Professor Emeritus Greg Versen. The event was designed to be an opportunity for social work students to network with their peers from around the state, share resources and ideas, and gain professional experience. This purpose is still the driving force behind the conference today. “This is an event that gives these students the opportunity to celebrate their profession, get to know each other and work on professional development,” explained social work professor Laura Trull, one of the principal organizers behind this year’s event. 

The conference is also a chance for students to see what is being done in social work programs on other campuses. “It’s easy to be in a bubble where you only notice what is affecting your school or community,” said Sarah Kraft, a senior social work student and organizer for the event. “Rally in the Valley helps students really connect with their fellow social work peers from across Virginia, and build cohesiveness and a sense of unity within the profession.” 

JMU SW students and faculty attend professional conference

The event is made up of a roll call, panels, workshops, award ceremonies and a graduate school fair. “We have about a dozen MSW [Master of Social Work] programs from around the nation host a graduate fair and a panel,” said Trull. “This gives students a chance to ask questions about applying, as well as compare and contrast programs.” The year’s keynote address was given by retired Virginia Senator Frank Noland, who served in the Virginia General Assembly for more than three decades before retiring in 1996. This address was very much aligned with the theme of this year’s rally: social work values, government and politics. “[Noland] talked to the students about being an advocate,” said Trull. “You don’t have to have it all figured out, but you need to be out there, work and be involved.”

In addition to the keynote, the theme of social work values, government and politics was applied throughout the conference. “Part of social work’s core values and mission is working towards social, economic and environmental justice,” said Trull. “There are a lot of opportunities for social workers to be advocates.” These themes were explored with topics such as health care expansion in Virginia, the Black Lives Matter movement and a JMU student-run panel on their Campus Election Engagement Project, a get-out-the-vote campaign. “As social work students, it is our responsibility to strive to end discrimination, oppression, poverty and other areas of inequity,” said Kraft. “Students need to be aware of areas of oppression locally, nationally and globally so we can become politically engaged and work to change them.” 

“A good social worker is never done learning,” said Trull. “Events like these are an opportunity for students to sharpen their skills and look for new ways to practice.” JMU will attend next year’s Rally in the Valley, which will be hosted by Radford University and Ferrum College. “It’s such a fun event!” said Trull. “It’s something that I’m proud our program is a part of.” 

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Published: Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Last Updated: Thursday, November 2, 2023

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