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Political Social Work Specialization

Purpose Statement

The Specialization in Political Social Work prepares students to engage in systems-level change, particularly in political and organizational arenas. Students receive advanced training in interacting with political actors and influencing political and organizational decisions, both individually and through advocating for and empowering clients and communities.


Students completing this specialization are expected to demonstrate the following knowledge and skills:

  • To understand the history of the social work profession and its role regarding client advocacy and influencing political environments
  • To demonstrate an understanding of the theoretical foundations, principles, and assumptions underlying political social work practice within and involving organizations, communities, and local, state, national, and international policy-making bodies
  • To assess political and power dynamics within organizations, communities, and local, state, national, and international policy-making bodies
  • To identify and demonstrate the capacity to implement strategies of advocacy and social change to advance social, economic, and political justice and human rights
  • To identify structural practices at the organizational, community, and policy levels that disempower vulnerable populations, and to develop and implement strategies to challenge these practices and to empower clients and communities.

Unique Opportunities and Recent Programs

  • The Austin Legislative Internship Program enables students to intern at the Texas Legislature during its legislative session every two years. The internship is a block field placement, and academic credit is provided. This program offers an excellent opportunity to experience first-hand how policy is made in Texas. Student interns work as full-time staffers in the Legislature, either as policy analysts with the Legislative Study Group, a Caucus of the Texas House of Representatives, or in legislators’ offices.
  • GCSW partners with One Voice Texas to host a “Policy Insider Series”, bringing policy advocates to the College to discuss their work. Students are encouraged to attend the seminars and have the opportunity to serve on the student Policy Insider Advisory Committee.
  • Students participate in an annual GCSW contingent to the Social Work Day at the United Nations in New York City, NY each spring
  • Student participation in on-campus political debates
  • Election-results watching events
  • GCSW Voter Registration Drive
  • Annual Student Day at the TX Legislature
  • Global Justice Class with Jody Williams, 1997 Nobel Laureate

Affiliated Faculty

Suzanne Pritzker
Aabha Brown
Jamie Parker
Susan Robbins
Patrick Leung
Jody Williams

Required Course (Choose One)

SOCW  7329: Social Policy Advocacy

SOCW  7320: Empowerment 

Elective Courses (Choose Two)

SOCW 6304: Women’s Issues

SOCW 7307: Law and Social Work

SOCW 7320: Empowerment

SOCW 7321: Multicultural Practice

SOCW 7323: Organizational Behavior and Change

SOCW 7329: Social Policy Advocacy

SOCW 7350: Overrepresentation of Minority Males in Criminal Justice Systems

SOCW 7372: SW and Global Justice Issues

SOCW 7374: Mediation for Social Workers

SOCW 7397: Legislative Seminar (Austin internship only)

Field Criteria

PSW students should have the opportunity to observe at least two meetings from the following list: agency board meetings, agency executive leadership meetings, community coalition meetings, meetings with legislators, legislative policy hearings, or other policy-making deliberations, to assess decision-making processes and power dynamics. 

At least one supervision session should be devoted to discussing the profession's ethical requirements in relationship to the student's observations of the use of power and influence in organizational and/or legislative decision-making. 

Students should be able to be involved in at least one of the following aspects of influencing policy and decision-making at a systemic level (i.e., organization, community, or local, state, national, or international policy-making body):

  • Analysis of an existing policy or policy proposal
  • Design of a new policy or change in existing policy, including problem definition, formulating and evaluating alternatives, and implementation design 
  • Design, implementation, or evaluation of a political advocacy strategy
  • Design, implementation, or evaluation of a policy education strategy

An opportunity for the student to write and/or speak in support of a policy that promotes the well-being of vulnerable populations is preferred. 

Both Clinical and Macro settings offer opportunities for students to meet the PSW field criteria. Specialization opportunities are expected to serve as a supplement to primary field responsibilities. 


Recent PSW Student and Alumni Accomplishments

  • Torey Powell (’14) was selected in a prestigious national competition to be a Presidential Management Fellowship Finalist. He is currently working as Partnership and Community Outreach Coordinator for the U.S.D.A. Forest Service in Anchorage, Alaska.
  • Dixie Hairston (’14) and three other GCSW students were selected in Spring 2014 to serve as delegates for the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom to the UN Commission on the Status of Women. (link to news story here)
  • Recent alumni Amanda Williams (’14), Laura Welch (’13), and Melanie Pang (’12) were selected to be members of the 2014-15 League of Women Voters-Houston Rising Stars Class
  • Natalie Powell (’14) published an editorial in The Hill (a newspaper targeted specifically to political leaders and staff in and around Washington, D.C.
  • Students Richard Wagner and Paige Reitz, and alumni Dixie Hairston (’14), Jenna Cooper (’14), Christianna Burwell (’13), Torey Powell (’14), Natalie Powell (’14), and Ana Rodriguez (’14) were selected to present their work at the social work Policy Conference 2.0 held in Austin, TX in May 2014.

Positions held by recent PSW graduates

  • Social Work Counselor, UT MD Anderson Cancer Center
  • English Instructor, Bilingual Education Institute
  • Project Coordinator, Texas State Independent Living Council
  • Project Coordinator, Children at Risk
  • Field Organizer, Wendy Davis Campaign
  • Investigator, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
  • Partnership and Community Outreach Coordinator, U.S.D.A. Forest Service
  • Public Policy Specialist, Texas State Alliance of YMCAs
  • Executive Director, Texas Legislative Study Group
  • CEASE Network North Texas Coordinator, Children at Risk
  • Community Education Specialist, United Against Human Trafficking