Message from Dean Betsy Farmer about fall semester July 23, 2020

Dear Pitt Social Work students,

As we near the end of July, I wanted to reach out to make sure you are getting information you need to be ready for the start of the semester. I would like to thank all of you for your patience and grace throughout the past few months. This has been a really tough spring and summer! COVID-19 made spring semester morph into something that none of us had ever experienced. And, since the end of May, we have seen our country actively dealing with racial inequities and systemic racism. It’s the kind of time that makes me very glad to be part of a school of social work! We need to depend on and support one another in order to build and grow our community during these challenging times.

During all of this, we have been planning and preparing for the fall. I hope you have all been getting the updates from the Chancellor and Provost. We, too, have been following and waiting for the university’s decisions as we determine our best approaches as a school. Please know that we are doing everything we can to be ready to provide the best possible education and help to ensure that students, faculty, and staff are safe. I wanted to give you a bit more detail and updates on where things stand.

Health and Safety

As our fall term approaches, we want to keep you as informed as possible about the start of classes and, for many of you, field.  In our planning, we are prioritizing the health and safety of our faculty, staff, students, and surrounding community members. Please follow the recommendations of the Healthcare Advisory Group to help keep our community healthy and safe.

Pitt Operational Postures

Pitt will have three different operational postures that it can move between depending on conditions on campus and in our community. Here is information about the operational postures. There also may be additional changes to the academic calendar, which you can find here.

Return to Campus

Classes begin on Wednesday, August 19. This first week of classes will be entirely remote. The university will be requiring all students—including students living off campus—to shelter in place. Students will only be permitted to attend classes in person once their 14-day shelter-in-place period is complete. As a result, some students may need to attend classes remotely even after in-person classes have begun.

Teaching and Learning

Pitt School of Social Work has been a leader in social work education for over century, and although the methods may change, we will continue this tradition.

Flex@Pitt is a reinvention and expansion of the instructional model during the pandemic, offering in-person learning for students when conditions allow for it, and providing faculty with tools and support to deliver robust teaching remotely as needed. Flex@Pitt is designed to adapt to changing conditions of the virus and our campuses.

Unlike spring, when we encouraged faculty to provide asynchronous instruction as much as possible, the fall will prioritize real-time interactions among faculty and students. This may be done in person (for faculty and students who feel comfortable/safe in this format, during periods when the University allows for this) or via synchronous remote options (e.g., Zoom). And asynchronous options will be available, for those who need them. As a student, you will not be required to come to campus, if you do not feel comfortable doing that.  

Field Education

The Office of Field Education has been working diligently to address student needs during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been working with a wide range of agencies to match students to field sites for the fall term. A majority of agencies are offering in person experiences, some others are offering remote, and some a combination of both in person and virtual learning experiences. Additional details about off-campus experiences, including field education, will be provided in the near term.

Agencies have been very open to conducting Skype, Zoom, or telephone interviews. We currently anticipate BASW, Second Year MSW and Advanced Standing students to begin field placement on or around August 24th and First Year Generalist MSW students to start on or around September 21st.

Please remember that most agencies will require Act 33, Act 34 and FBI clearances and, most importantly, please keep in contact with your field advisor regarding any updates, questions or concerns.

The Pitt School of Social Work Community

Finally, we can never forget that we are social workers. We know the importance of human connections and relationship building, and we hope you will join us in strengthening those connections.

We have planned initial virtual orientation and extended orientation events throughout the fall, and we will add more social events as the semester progresses. Orientation is required for all incoming students, but all students are welcome to view orientation and extended orientation events. We will be providing a video orientation that students will be able to view “on demand” starting in mid-August – you will get information about this as it is launched. This orientation will provide you with a welcome to the school, information about our programs, people, school, university, and community for new students beginning the journey. We will also be providing a series of programs and events over the first six weeks of the semester to help you learn more about what the school offers and how you can expand your own growth and learning while you’re here.

We also encourage you to engage will your peers through our various student organizations: the BASW Club, the MSW Student Executive Council (SEC), the Doctoral Student Organization, and the Union of Black Social Work Students (open to students at the BASW, MSW, and PhD levels).

We know this is a lot of information to absorb, and we also know that we can’t answer every question in a single letter. Communication will be essential during the next few weeks and months, and we ask that you please check your emails, the school’s COVID-19 response webpage, the University’s COVID-19 response page, the Incoming Student webpage, and Pitt Social Work social media channels for the most up-to-date information. And, if you have individual questions, please reach out to your program director, our Associate Dean for Student Success (Dr. Keith Caldwell), or me.

We also encourage you to join the University-wide Student Town Hall occurring next week, Tuesday the 28th, from 3 to 4 pm EST where more information may be disseminated and discusses.

I hope you have a good rest of the summer before we see you! We’re definitely looking forward to the fall semester!

Stay safe and take care,


Betsy Farmer