Message from Dean Betsy Farmer March 18, 2020

Dear students --

                I hope that this note finds you well. This has certainly been a set of weeks that none of us anticipated when we started this semester, and I hope that all of you are safe and finding ways to adjust to this changing and challenging situation. As you most likely know, the university and school have made many decisions recently to try to minimize the spread of COVID-19. These decisions are based on recommendations from public health officials for a level of social distancing and "de-densifying" that has affected nearly every aspect of our lives. Even though we will not be physically in the same space for the rest of the semester, I wanted to reach out to all of you to let you know you are welcome to get in touch and that I am focused on you as we figure out how to successfully finish this semester. 

                You have received a number of communications recently from the university and the school -- about classes, field, advising, commencement, etc. I wanted to make sure that you all have a clear understanding of how this is all working and how we are here to support you to finish out this semester.  Please know that we are all very aware of how disruptive and anxiety-producing this all can be -- while we often like to think that social workers take care of others, within the circumstances of this pandemic, taking care of ourselves and taking care of others are inextricably linked. We are truly all in this together, and we will support each other to do what is needed to stay safe, reduce the spread and impact of this virus, and keep ourselves connected and well during this time. We understand that this is a complex situation and that, for some of us, there are added concerns and complexities that make it even more challenging. Please know that we are thinking of you, and that everyone in the School of Social Work is here to help you navigate the next few weeks.

                As you all know, classes will restart -- remotely -- on Monday, March 23. I have asked each of your instructors to get in touch with you by tomorrow, March 19, to let you know what to expect from their class for the remainder of the semester. Please be patient with yourselves and your instructors as we all adjust to the new format. It may be a challenging transition, but we at the School of Social Work are committed to making the best of it and working with you to ensure that you can successfully engage with the materials and with each other. Our first priority is that you will come out of the semester having had a fruitful learning experience. We are aware that this pandemic has swiftly brought about changes to people's lives that could affect your ability to complete your coursework in a myriad of ways, and we want to make sure that these do not prevent you from learning. Please let your instructors know as soon as possible if there are any issues that are making it difficult for you to access or engage with course materials so that we can begin the collaborative process of finding solutions that will allow you to successfully complete the semester.

                You should have also received a note from John Dalessandro about field placements/internships. As John detailed, we (like many schools of social work across the country) have decided to use the CSWE minimum number of required hours for field education for this semester. This decision came about because many of the agencies we work with reached out to us to say that they were moving their staff to work-from-home arrangements and could no longer accommodate interns. While some agencies do continue to provide in-person services, we have decided, in light of the university's restriction on activities and travel, that the most equitable and safest option going forward is to cancel in-person field internships for the rest of this semester. If you have questions, your field faculty liaison, Mr. Dalessandro, or one of the other members of the field faculty will be able to help you. If you haven't completed your hours, they will be able to work with you (and your field supervisor, if possible) to determine appropriate and viable ways to complete the remainder of your hours.

                If you are not graduating this semester, we are all aware that fall course registration will be opening shortly (on Friday, 3/20, for veterans; Monday, 3/23 for others). This aspect of the semester has not been majorly affected by the current COVID-19 situation and will be very similar to the normal process. You will need to meet with your advisor (if you haven't already) and you will then be able to register for classes online. (Please note that if you have not yet met with your advisor, faculty are also currently working from home and you will need to arrange a phone or video meeting with them.) If you have any questions, your academic advisor or Marcia Piel will be able to help you.

                Those of you who are graduating should have received a note from Chancellor Gallagher that graduation has been postponed. At this point, the School of Social Work does not have any more information about this than you do. I understand that this may be a very disappointing decision to hear about, and I am sorry that the school will not be able to hold our usual in-person graduation ceremony to celebrate your significant achievements during your time at Pitt – I love graduation, so I am very sad not to be able to shake each of your hands and wish you all the best in person! We are currently exploring virtual options that we could do in late April to recognize and celebrate our graduates. If you have any ideas for what would be meaningful to you, please let me know!

   Thank you for bearing with me through this long message, and please feel free to reach out if there is anything that I could clarify. Please use the rest of this week to get settled into your new routines and/or living situations. As we move back into instruction next week, I will be meeting with faculty and staff in the school frequently to make sure that things are going as smoothly as possible, and I want to hear from you if there is anything the school can do to facilitate this transition. The rest of the semester will look different than what we all expected, but I am hopeful that we will find opportunities for resilience, growth, and connection in this difficult time. The Pitt School of Social Work is a community, and I know that we will come together as a community to finish this semester strong!

                I will be working from home (just like all of you), so if you want to get in touch, the best way to reach me is by email. I am also happy to get together via Zoom or other platforms -- please let me know what would best suit your needs. I wish you the best as we get started back on Monday! 

  Take care and stay safe,


p.s., If you’re looking for updates and general COVID-19 information, please visit our website: for the latest communications from the School and the University, resources to help you connect online, and links to how to take care of yourself during these trying times.