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July 1, 2011

This summer, social work has definitely left the building! Two MSW students are completing six-week internships at China's Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, under the supervision of GSSW Scholar-in-Residence Sarah Bexell. Meanwhile, 10 University of Denver students, three of them from GSSW, are completing eight-week internships in Bosnia, led by Clinical Associate Professor Ann Petrila. Read their blogs at

This is the second summer that Bexell, Chengdu's director of conservation education and communications, has supervised MSW student internships in China. Through interaction with Chinese colleagues, Sichuan University students and teachers from throughout Sichuan Province, the interns are helping to develop public conservation programs and learning about the culture of China, particularly as it relates to animal welfare and its effects on human health and wildlife conservation issues.

"From the conservation side, it is mind-blowing to experience and see firsthand what environmental destruction does to human health and the health of all species," Bexell says of living in an area where clean air and water, green space and solitude are virtually non-existent. "I hope our students see how truly blessed we are in the U.S. and also understand what a responsibility we have for setting better conservation standards and modeling stewardship of our planet for human health."

The students interning in China will earn one academic credit toward their concentration year internships. They'll have a head start in other ways, too, says Bexell. "Social workers often work with minority groups but have never been in a situation where they feel the isolation of a language or cultural barrier, making it hard to relate to clients in that situation," she explains. "Our students have remarked many times how this experience will help them relate better to marginalized populations and individuals in the future."

Petrila, Director of Field Education at GSSW, was named Director of Project Bosnia earlier this year. Project Bosnia was founded by Dr. Peter Van Arsdale at DU's Josef Korbel School of International Studies in 1996, the year after the Bosnian War ended, and is the University's oldest international service learning program. Under Petrila's leadership, the Project's academic home has moved to GSSW.

"The director of this program always puts his or her own stamp on it," Petrila explains. "As a social worker, my lens is social justice."

Prior to traveling to Bosnia and beginning their internships, students attended five class sessions at GSSW during spring quarter. The students are interning at a variety of local and international NGOs including Catholic Relief Services, City of Sarajevo Healthy Aging Project (the city's first day program for the elderly), the Association of Concentration Camp Detainees, the Wings of Hope counseling center for individuals and families, and two other organizations focusing on issues of international security and reconciliation efforts with the young people of the former Yugoslavia.

Students participating in Project Bosnia this summer will earn five academic credits. The GSSW students have the option of applying those credits and their Bosnian internshipstoward their required concentration year field placement.

In June, seven other MSW students traveled to Bosnia with Petrila as part of a new class she developed and taught for the first time this year, "The Social Work Response in Post-War Bosnia."The course, which included spring quarteron-campus classesprior to the Bosnia trip,examined social, cultural, historical, political, economic, religious and ethnic characteristics of the former Yugoslavia as context for studying the genocide that occurred in the early 1990s. Students were exposed firsthand to the local, national and international efforts toward rebuilding and healing through lectures provided by faculty at the University of Sarajevo School of Social Work, interaction with Bosnian social work students and visits to NGOs focused on the post-war efforts. The studentsalsovisited war tribunal sites and other locations that were important during the war, including Srebrenica, site of the worst genocide since World War II.

International internships and classes like these are becoming increasingly common at GSSW, a trend that Petrila welcomes. "In fact," she says, "I believe there is no substitute for being in an international setting to truly understand the interface of global forces, both historical and current, on today's vulnerable populations."


This story and others can be found at DU Today.