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Seeing Social Work Anew

By ELIZABETH CHUCK, Courant Staff Writer

July 16, 2004
Copyright © 2004 THE HARTFORD COURANT. All rights reserved.

WEST HARTFORD -- It's not every day that Yazmin Valentin, a 25-year-old graduate student at the University of Puerto Rico, dines with Hartford Mayor Eddie Perez.

But meeting the mayor is just one of many cultural activities offered to Valentin and 12 fellow classmates as part of an eight-day exchange program with the University of Connecticut School of Social Work. The program got underway Monday, and included a special dinner at the school of social work's West Hartford campus.

The itinerary also includes a visit to the state Department of Children and Families and the state Capitol, and lectures at the Institute for the Hispanic Family and on violence prevention for women.

The current visit is the third exchange program, held every other year, between UConn and the University of Puerto Rico for social work graduate students.

"It's a great opportunity for us because we can compare jobs and work in Puerto Rico and learn about models used here for helping children's communities and whole families," Valentin said.

Since the program's beginning in 2001, two groups of American students have also spent a part of their winter break in Puerto Rico to participate in the exchange.

Esterla Barreto, the program coordinator at the University of Puerto Rico, said this exchange enables Americans to see how social work operates in a different setting.

"They get to see how we struggle and make the best with less resources," she said. "They're always impressed by that. They get to know the culture and traditions better; they get a better idea of how we are in our own country and understand what kind of things make us leave and come to the U.S."

Dr. Kay Davidson, dean of the UConn School of Social Work, said that the program attracts students from Hartford's growing Latino community.

Lirio Negroni-Rodriguez, chairwoman of the Puerto Rican/Latino Studies project at the UConn School of Social Work, said the program is advantageous for everyone involved.

"The better we prepare social workers, the better the quality of services that can be provided."

UConn Professor Emeritus Julio Morales conceived this program in 1998 and worked to raise money through grants before the first exchange. Applications to the program are also accepted from practicing social workers who are no longer in graduate school.

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