June 22, 2020

Message to Admitted & Incoming Students from Dean Melissa Begg

Dear New CSSW Students in our Residential and Online Campuses,
I hope this note finds all of you well and safe despite the two epidemics that currently plague our country: COVID-19 and anti-Black racism. Please know we stand with all of you in our united efforts to combat these two scourges on our society. Our commitment to social justice is stronger than ever.
I am writing to share an important update about the fall semester at Columbia School of Social Work (CSSW). Like all units of the University, the School aims to bring as many students and faculty as possible back to face-to-face instruction. But as I write, teaching at CSSW is likely to be primarily online this fall. Before reaching this conclusion, the School’s senior leadership team has spent months evaluating the impact of COVID across the nation, reviewing evolving public health recommendations, and discussing a wide range of educational options for this fall at CSSW. After considerable thought and discussion, we are preparing to offer most of our Residential Campus classes for MSW and PhD students via remote instruction this fall. Our goal is to allow students to pursue their studies remotely should that be their preference, while also allowing those who wish to come to New York and engage in on-the-ground research and volunteer opportunities to do so whenever possible and safe. Please be assured that new and returning CSSW students who can study remotely will be able to complete all of their fall requirements virtually should they choose. When small seminar-style courses are offered in-person as public health guidance allows, they will be clearly designated as “in-person” in the course directory.
Our overarching goal is to provide a superb learning environment for you, our students. Unlike any other top school of social work, CSSW has offered a robust, award-winning, fully online MSW program for the past five years. We are completely confident that we can leverage our experience and expertise in online education across all of our programs to ensure high-quality, engaging coursework throughout our curriculum.
The ways we live and work have changed dramatically over the past three months. We’ve all learned to pursue our professional and personal lives with the help of technology. Using the expertise we have gained from these experiences, as well as our deep knowledge of best practices in online education, we will be able to offer ample opportunities for you to engage with your faculty members and classmates this fall, expand your professional networks, get help as needed from your instructors, receive guidance from your advisors and practicum supervisors, and obtain support from our dedicated staff in student services.
Our Office of Practicum Learning has been actively working to re-imagine MSW field placements and partnerships. Like other schools of social work across the country this past spring, we had to rapidly expand and deploy remote practicum opportunities to comply with public health guidance and curb the spread of COVID. This fall, all placements will have the capacity to be conducted fully remotely if needed. We recognize that the geographic dispersion of our students in the Residential Campus will likely be much greater than usual this fall, given the transition of courses to the online environment. We are ready to work with our MSW students individually to secure practicum placements that make the most sense under current conditions. You will receive more information (and a survey) on the question of physical location from our Office of Practicum Learning in the coming days.
We know this wasn’t what you anticipated for the fall semester. We’ve all had to adapt to unprecedented changes over the past several months. Thinking ahead, the decision to move towards primarily remote education will help us to avoid unnecessary interruptions and promote continuity of learning for our students despite an uncertain environment with respect to COVID. By taking this step now, we can concentrate our attention and resources on building out greater learning opportunities for this fall.
We have already engaged in a great deal of planning to ensure that remote instruction in our Residential Campus will lead to a consistent, high-quality experience for students. Learning from best practices in our Online Campus program, and leveraging strengths across both campuses, the following are examples of steps we are taking to ensure a vibrant educational experience:

  • We are, for the first time, allowing for much greater fluidity between our Residential and Online Campuses, significantly expanding access to a wider variety of courses for all students.
  • We are adding more early morning and evening classes, to allow for increased flexibility in course scheduling.
  • We are preparing a series of meetings, workshops, and panel discussions, starting this summer and running through the fall semester, that will provide opportunities to engage with faculty, students, and staff on topics of interest throughout your time with us. Please watch your email for more information on these events.
  • We are offering extensive workshops and training opportunities for our faculty, who have enthusiastically welcomed these opportunities to refresh and expand their teaching skills.

A decision for the spring 2021 semester has not yet been made, and will depend on events as they unfold over the next several months. We will keep you apprised of our thinking and preparations for spring throughout the fall term.
As I expressed in an earlier note to our incoming students, despite the myriad changes all around us, some things remain the same. CSSW is one of the best social work schools in the country. Our breadth of concentrations and specializations ensures that you are able to focus on the aspects of social work and social welfare that are most meaningful to you. We will be ready to offer you an excellent education this fall. We have deep experience in online learning and we are confident that we can provide a learning experience that is personal, engaging, and effective, enabling you to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to promote positive change.
The events around the world underscore the need for social work, and the need for social workers. Society needs you – for your talent, your creativity, and your dedication to social justice. There’s no time to lose.

With best regards and enduring hope for the future,


Melissa D. Begg

Dean & Professor
Columbia School of Social Work