School of Social Work & Sociology
Phone: (509) 527-2273

History

Founded in 1892 as Walla Walla College, Walla Walla University is a university affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.  More than 1,800 students of diverse backgrounds attend the school, which welcomes any student who desires an exceptional Christian education.

Walla Walla University is fully accredited and offers more than 100 areas of study in liberal arts, professional and technical programs.  The University is governed by the Walla Walla University Board of Trustees and is accredited by the Northwest Accrediting Association.  Located on a 55-acre campus in College Place, Washington, Walla Walla University also operates a School of Nursing in Portland, Oregon, a Marine Biology laboratory on the Puget Sound near Anacortes, Washington and Graduate Social Work Programs in Missoula and Billings, Montana.

Walla Walla College was renamed Walla Walla University in 2007 to reflect the breadth of educational opportunities offered.  The University currently enrolls 1,865 students in a range of professional, liberal arts, and technical programs, offering six Bachelor's degrees with majors in 42 areas of study.  The largest undergraduate programs are Business, Education and Engineering.  Graduate programs, which have a combined enrollment of approximately 250 students, are offered in Biology, Education, Psychology and Social Work.

The University is an educational institution, which operates from a Christian foundation that reflects the value and mission of Christ.  The vision statement, “To be a community of faith and discovery committed to Excellence in thought, Generosity in service, Beauty in expression, and Faith in God,” reflects well Christ’s mission of serving others and living life abundantly and fully. 

Imbued in the mission, academics and extracurricular programs on the Walla Walla University campus is an emphasis on service.  The Social Work Program, which seeks to uplift humanity by helping to ameliorate the social ills and problems of individuals, families, communities and organizations, finds itself enthusiastic and like-minded with the University’s focus.

The Social Work Program at Walla Walla University is the result of an evolutionary process which began as a minor in Social Science in the History Department in 1955.  This minor was changed to Sociology in 1965, with the first full-time faculty member added in 1967.  The addition of a second full-time faculty member in sociology resulted in the approval of a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology.  Shortly thereafter, courses in social welfare with an accompanying fieldwork program and criminal justice courses were added to the sociology offerings within the Department of History, Political Science, and Sociology.

In response to the interest of both students and faculty, a Bachelor of Science in Social Work was eventually offered in the 1974/75 academic year, and the Department of Social Work and Sociology was created in 1975.  A second qualified faculty with the needed MSW degree was added in the 1977/78 academic year.  At the time, the Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) degree was approved and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) in 1979.  The enrollment of the BSW Program steadily increased and the program received its re-affirmation from the council in 1987.

Requests from the Northwest regional communities who had a strong interest in MSW trained social workers for rural areas, urging from campus Academic Master Planning Committee and results of a needs assessment of Southeastern Washington, Eastern Oregon, and Western Idaho eventually led to a proposal for a Master of Social Work (MSW) Program at Walla Walla College.  College Board approval for an MSW Program came in the spring of 1987 and by that summer, Professor Jack Ellis, from the University of Washington, was hired as a program consultant and Dr. Standley L. Gellineau, from the University of Denver, was hired full-time as Director of the Master’s Program.  Both of these academic professionals worked with Dr. Wilma Hepker, the department chair and founder of Social Work Program, and other social work faculty to develop a graduate curriculum, policies and procedures, recruitment plans, and needed approvals through campus governance system.

As a result of their hard work, the first MSW cohort at Walla Walla College started in January, 1988 with 25 students.  The program received candidacy status from the Council on Social Work Education in November, 1988, and graduated its first class of 17 in June, 1989.  The program continued to have support from both the College and the community and with student enrollment climbing and the addition of new faculty, initial CSWE accreditation for the MSW Program was granted in 1992.

During the 1995/96 academic year, three students commuted more than 400 miles weekly to Walla Walla College from Helena, Montana, to pursue and complete their MSW degrees.  They made this choice based on three factors: 1) Montana did not have an MSW program, 2) they wanted an advanced clinical concentration in social work and 3) they desired a social work program that respected the Christian perspective.  These students were not in a position to interrupt their employment or leave their families to move to Walla Walla for a year.  The unique two-day design of the Walla Walla College Graduate Program made this option possible and these students commuted weekly to classes on this campus for the two years of their program.

During those two years, they were steadfast in their request for Walla Walla College to provide graduate education in Montana State.

At that time there were two schools, the University of Montana in Missoula and Carroll College in Helena, in the state of Montana that offered CSWE accredited BSW degrees; none offered MSW degrees.  As a result of recruitment visits to these schools and liaison visits to several of the agency practicum placements available to the Walla Walla College students; repeated requests from  prospective students, Montana social service agencies and the National Association of Social Work, Walla Walla College decided to explore the possibility of opening an extension of its MSW in Montana.  While neither the University of Montana nor Carroll College had an MSW program at that time, both agreed on the need for an MSW program for their graduates that would provide them with advanced education and training in social work.

The National Association of Social Workers of the State of Montana offered to conduct a needs assessment and reported an overwhelmingly positive response for an MSW program in Montana.  The solid support from social work professionals in Montana led to the beginning of the MSW Program in Missoula in 1997 with a cohort of twenty-five students.  The proposal for providing the Walla Walla College MSW Program in the state of Montana was submitted to the Council on Social Work Education and the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges and the Montana Program received full approval from both accrediting bodies in 1998.

The School of Social Work began offering MSW classes in Billings, Montana at the urging of the Montana State Child and Family Services who was concerned about the gap in MSW graduate education in Eastern Montana.  As a result, the first Billings MSW cohort started with 20 students in the 2000/01 academic year.  Both Montana Programs enjoy adequate space for classrooms, computer labs, and faculty offices.

The state of Montana has a high concentration of Native Americans who are dispersed on reservations throughout the state.  Many of these are human service personnel working in the Tribal agencies and desire a graduate education in social work.  Both Programs in Montana have developed good relationships with several Native tribes and as a result have educated many Native Americans students.  The MSW Programs in Montana have approximately 12-20 Native students every year working towards and/or completing their MSW degrees.  Walla Walla University’s vision to offer the MSW curriculum in Montana has greatly enriched, strengthened, and professionalized social work service on an advanced level in rural and urban areas alike.

Total enrollment for Social Work Programs at Walla Walla University for the 2010/11 academic year shows the BSW Program with approximately 45 students and MSW Programs totaling to 195 students.  MSW student per campus has Missoula with 68 students, Billings with 42 students and the main College Place campus enrolling 85 students.

Qualified doctoral and MSW faculty who live College Place, Missoula and Billings areas coordinate and teach the respective programs.  In the beginnings of the Montana programs, faculty from the main campus would commute weekly to teach classes in Missoula and Billings.  Since 2009, only one faculty member travels from the main campus on a regular basis to teach classes in Missoula only.  The expertise of the combined faculty continues to be shared with the students on all three campuses by having several professors each year teach courses through use of Interactive TV (ITV) technology and internet.

In 1999, the Department of Social Work and Sociology became the School of Social Work and Sociology, due to the expansion of its graduate program and the current department chair and founder of social work program, Dr. Wilma Hepker, became the school’s first dean.  When Dr. Wilma Hepker retired in the summer of 2006 after over 30 years of service to the program, the School was re-named in her honor as The Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology.  Dr. Hepker had an amazing vision to develop and provide quality BSW and MSW education in the Northwest.  This vision continues to inform faculty and benefit hundreds of potential social workers who enroll in the programs each year.

The Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology was physically re-located into new space in the Winter Educational Complex on the Walla Walla University campus in the fall of 2010 after almost 30 years of residing in four little houses, known as “social work row” or “settlement houses” on the corner of campus.  The new renovation provides the School with an approximately 25,000 square-foot facility that more than adequately meets the technological and educational needs of students.  Faculty offices, smart classrooms, ITV conference rooms, wireless student lounge and clinical testing rooms, in which faculty are able to observe practice skills of students, grace the new facility that the School of Social Work and Sociology now calls home.  Faculty, staff and students in the School of Social Work are excited to be a part of social work education in the 21st century, learning and working together in a community that is anxious to affirm the dignity and worth of every person, while, preparing social work leaders who will transform the world around them through service.

Page maintained by Kisna Toruno
Last update on July 16, 2011