Listen, Learn, Love





LOVE                                                                   by LaNae Hammon Poulter ’ 71

In 1982, a somewhat undirected student at Ricks College sat in his advisor’s office in the Clarke Building seeking counsel. “Perhaps you should try social work,” the advisor guided. Grover Wray listened. Now the roles have changed, and it is Brother Wray who sits in the very same office as he counsels students. They listen, they learn, and they love.
As the chair of the Department of Sociology and Social Work, Wray finds synergy in working with other faculty—two of whom were his instructors in his early years as a student. Now as peers, they have completely restructured their curriculum, an ongoing process growing from Ricks College’s two-year program to a comprehensive bachelor’s degree curriculum. Development of the Social Work Program gives insight into the rethinking process as a combination of evaluating main resources of curriculum, faculty, and facilities, knowing the future job market, and shaping the future.

“We basically started over from scratch,” explains Wray. “We evaluated the courses we had. Then we talked to other universities and asked what core courses they offer. We also contacted the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and they informed us what classes were vital for accreditation. Then we began to structure the framework of courses to be offered at BYU–Idaho.”
    Courses are planned to guide the 50 students admitted each year through the program. Students are selected based on
application, references, transcripts, and personal goals. (See
    Program data is collected to verify progressive benchmarks when CSWE representatives come to talk, evaluate, and give recommendations. On a small scale, the department is going through the same hoops as the university for full accreditation. Each program is accredited on its own merit. Wray says they have been encouraged at each site visit, and he reports the Social Work Program has gained candidacy for accreditation status—one of the first vital steps toward full accreditation.
    Steven Hay, a faculty member since 1986, directs the growing Social Work Program. He explains, “Social work is a licensed or regulated profession in all 50 states and in several foreign countries. With the associate degree program in our old system, we trained students for transfer or to get jobs as technicians or in various support roles in agencies. Now we offer training for the baccalaureate social work professional. It allows the student a broader level of training. That is exciting!”
    Once granted, full accreditation of the program will be retroactive, a matter of consideration for those seeking transfers to graduate studies or eventual social work licensing. Megan Marriott, a senior from Burley, Idaho, has progressed along with the evolving program. “Even though there have been some struggles, the professors have kept things organized and personable,” she said. “I know it will happen, and we will get the accreditation we need.”


As upper-level classes were added, the need for more faculty members became apparent. Proposals were submitted through the College of Religion and Social Sciences and onto President’s Council. The Board of Trustees heard the request and granted permission to hire new faculty. Essentially the faculty increased to match the quantity of courses and to maintain a 25:1 student-faculty ratio. The faculty’s unique professional backgrounds in cultures and circumstances result in a dynamic learning environment.

As the curriculum expanded and more faculty members were hired, the need for more space became apparent. A feasibility study was made to determine the needs for classrooms, laboratories, and faculty offices. The plan was approved by the Board of Trustees, and funds were appropriated for the construction of the Thomas E. Ricks Building. When it opens in January 2005, the 56,200-square-foot facility will house the Department of Sociology and Social Work along with the Departments of Mathematics, History, Geography and Political Science, and Psychology.


Students gain practical experience in each of the central areas of social work: individual, group, and community. Students appreciate hands-on learning opportunities. Megan Marriott worked with an after-school program for children at risk by teaching them social skills, personal hygiene, respect, and love. As she continued for a period of several weeks, she observed, “It was hard for me to realize there are really kids who do not learn those things. It opened my eyes. Textbooks do not prepare you enough; it is a totally different experience when you do it hands on.”
    Seniors complete a capstone requirement in their chosen area. Each student must complete 16 hours a week for two semesters for a total of 500 hours of hands-on experience. To assure quality and a valid experience, the faculty developed a practicum manual for experience providers. The manual was distributed to several interested agencies. These organizations were invited to campus for an all-day training meeting where further expectations were explained. “It was really very beneficial,” said Wray. “At the end of the day, our students came and interviewed with the organizations. Then we matched them up where we thought they would fit well.”
    One of the new field placement providers is Bruce Hampton of Rehabilitative Health Services, a private agency in Idaho Falls, Idaho, doing psycho-social rehab with adult mentally ill clients. Hampton says it will be mutually beneficial to the student and his agency. He is eager to guide motivated students as they work with mental health issues. He said, “I will be basically helping them learn the ropes of social work as they get their number of hours required and gain a broader knowledge of social work training.”
    About 20 local agencies are currently involved; experiences range from child protection to adult mental health and work in hospitals. Wray sees potential for growth. “Eventually we will have students going back to their hometowns or wherever they want to work,” he said.


The Department of Sociology and Social Work students incorporate Christian service into their careers and personal lives. Students act upon what they have heard for years— “strengthen thy brethren” (Luke 22:32). Those who commit their lives to social work find their values become coupled with newly learned theories and concepts. Melissa Sparks, a senior from Montpelier, Idaho, shares her personal insight. “I was born with a physical disability,” she says. “I feel that it has given me a different viewpoint and helped me have a greater understanding of those in need.” Her ultimate dream job is to work in a hospital with terminally ill children.
    For graduates, the job market looks good. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare reports the hourly salary range for a social worker as $15.25–$25.25 depending on experience. Six out of ten social workers are employed within a social service system that deals primarily with those of low income, the underprivileged, the hungry, and the downtrodden.
    To get a better perspective of what lies ahead, some of the social work majors become involved with Urban Studies, a program started 13 years ago as a service for inner city youth of Chicago. Catherine Stokes, assistant deputy director of the Illinois Office of Health Care Regulation, was instrumental in the formation of the Inner City Youth Charitable Foundation in Chicago and of BYU–Idaho’s Urban Studies. Stokes says, “This program allows the BYU–Idaho student to have a practicum in as safe an environment as possible. It is a unique opportunity to translate what has been received in the classroom to the real world, review this with faculty and make ‘course corrections’ immediately. It further provides an opportunity to get a glimpse of a sub-culture of a variety of cultures and function/interact in it. The job market in the field that the university is preparing the students for is in the large population centers, not in rural or small town America. This experience is like on-the-job training. This then makes the student more marketable.”
    Separate camps are held for boys and girls ages 10-15; the girls attend a day camp while the boys stay full-time at an outdoor camp in Sawyer, Mich. Wray has overseen the boys’ program for the past five years. He says, “Our students come and spend $350 of their own money and take a month away from when they could be earning money to go out and make a difference in the life of a young boy.”
    These youth come from a lifestyle that often lacks structure. Inner city public schools have a six-out-of-ten drop-out rate. About 99 percent of the youth come from single-parent families—usually with absent fathers and basically female role models. Wray indicates camps are held during the summer to get the youth off the streets during gangs’ heavy recruitment time.       
    Lawyer “Boo Boo” Foster was one of the boys attending camp during Urban Studies’ early years. “I was amazed at how the people at this camp kept pushing me along and helping me,” says Foster. He gained a new vision of how life could be. “In the inner city once you turn as early as 10 or 11 you become a man because your dad is not there any more,” he explained. “You have the responsibility to go out and provide for the family.”
    The BYU–Idaho students and accompanying faculty serve as role models at camp and spend time one-on-one. To Wray part of the success is simple: “It allows the boys to have fun, to splash around in the lake, play games, and shoot water balloons. It allows boys to be boys.”
    The blessings of social work are two fold and exemplify the poet John Greenleaf Whittier’s expression: “Thee lift me and I’ll lift thee and we’ll both ascend together.” Wray continues, “The students we bring are affected and changed forever. On the way out to Chicago they are excited about being able to touch the lives of these kids and to be able teach them. On the way back it’s, ‘Man, they taught me so much. I am more in tune now with who I am and am more grateful and thankful for what I have.’”
    Foster was able to get an idea that life has options outside of gangs, drugs, etc. “Being able to be around people who want to make you better makes all the difference,” he says. He has since grown up, served as a camp counselor under Wray’s direction, and is now enrolled at BYU–Idaho’s Social Work Program—one of his biggest dreams come true.
    Recently Foster went back to Chicago for a few weeks. He says, “I realized a lot about my family and the youth. How they are different. Somehow, I make people want to be better. It is an overwhelming feeling.” He continues, “It is my duty to give back to those boys—the boys who are going through some of the same things I went through. I want to do all I can to help. I want to give back as much as I can. Those boys back home really need a lot of positive influences. ”
    From her vantage point in Chicago, Stokes sees many rewards for the BYU–Idaho students involved in social work. “The experience of living and working in the city provides an opportunity to know the great benefits that the students have gained from their own environment,” she explains. “As important, or even more important, the opportunity to serve as a role model for righteousness furthers the goal of bringing young people unto Christ, both the giver and receiver.”
    BYU–Idaho gives enriching opportunities to students and the youth from the camps. Recently an inner city career exchange program was approved. This program will bring a limited number of boys over age 15 to Idaho next summer for an experience in a new environment and to be mentored by those in the Social Work program.
    From his office on campus, Wray counsels students that social work is about individual commitment. He sees in students, potential far greater than themselves. “If we can make a difference with one, they will go make a difference with several more, and it just continues to roll forward. ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven’ (Matthew 5:16).”