Dr. Janice Gasker, KU professor of Social Work and director of the Baccalaureate Social Work Program, has been named Social Worker of the Year by the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Association of Social Workers (NASW).
Gasker, who has been with Kutztown University since 1996, said that the news came as a bit of a surprise.
“At first I thought, ‘Well, what’s that about?’ But then, when I started thinking about it, I realized that, oh right, most educational programs don’t have this kind of focus,” she explained.
That focus, according to Gasker, is helping students develop a strong professional identity.
The NASW first became aware of Gasker when she contacted them to establish a relationship for the social work program at KU.
“A lot of the focus of our program is really on developing professional identity,” Gasker said. “So, I worked hard to build up a collaborative relationship between the professional association and our program. So that’s how we started to get to know each other well.”
For Gasker, it was important for students to develop a solid professional identity and to leave the social work program feeling confident in their title of “social worker”. Her dedication to program, she said, is largely the reason behind the award.
“One of my great motivations in working with Dr. Vafeas to start the Master’s Program here was that I wanted to have a program where people were going to leave calling themselves social workers and feeling good about that,” Gasker said. “So, that was a lot of what was behind this award: my commitment to help people be involved with the organization, because that’s something that really helps you have a professional identity.”
According to Gasker, the NASW is an invaluable resource to social work practitioners.
“The clients that we serve are mostly disenfranchised people. And since they don’t have the resources to get help, we have to make sure that our organization or our professionals are healthy enough and supported enough to be able to be there to help them,” Gasker said. “What that organization does is pool all of our resources, and through legislation and through political advocacy, and helping people get elected and so forth, advocates for the interests of our clients.”
Currently, Gasker is the president of the Pennsylvania Association of Undergraduate Social Work Education (PAUSWE) and is assisting in promoting the passage of a bill to authorize baccalaureate licensure in social work.

By Adrianna Gober

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