Social work professor becomes a key component to a community college through her dedication and passion for teaching.
By Kiana Wright
Danelle Bower is not one of those professors who is hard to talk to. She greets students and those passing in the halls with smiles and enthusiasm and interest in her ideas.
Bower is a Social Work professor at RACC, mentor to many, and advisor of Phi Theta Kappa, the community college’s honors society. Bower’s concern for students comes naturally to her with a want to help foster growth by years of training and education that has helped her to master this skill.
Bower earned her Bachelors degree in Social Work from Kutztown University. However, she did not always want to be in the social work program. She started out as a secondary education major with an interest in French.
Bower said, “I was asking the teacher a lot of questions on how to help the children if there were problems and my teacher told me that that is not what education majors do.”
After this. she had changed her major five times before taking an Introduction to Social Work class, and it just clicked. She went on to earn her Master’s in Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. She took her degree to the next level and completed her doctorate at Weidner University. Bower was very passionate about making sure she had the best possible education in order to go into a career that is consistently changing and increasing.
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook of Social Work, social work is defined as the work carried out by trained personnel with the aim of alleviating conditions of those in need of help or welfare. Bower started out her professional career as a social worker attempting to do just that. She first started out in a juvenile detention facility as a counselor for girls. After a couple years at the facility, she moved into a law firm that provided legal aid for free to communities. This work experience then led her to work for a community organizing group. She would help the community solve problems that they could not fix themselves.
“Some of the problems that I would look into was unsafe playground equipment and most of the time contaminated water and unhealthy living conditions,” Bower said.
Working with this type of program that dealt largely with money and handling it and where to allocate the money towards got her into the COCA group, Council on Chemical Abuse. This group provides money for people who are struggling with drug and alcohol addiction. She worked directly with the money and seeing where it goes. Danelle has a very experienced work history with the social work culture, but her experience extends further into a much different field, education.
Bower has been teaching at RACC for some time now and really enjoys her job here. To some it may be confusing as to why a person with so many degrees, especially a doctorate, chose to work at a community college. Not only is her caring and nurturing character shown through her work experience and dedication to the field but also through her love for teaching the profession regardless of the name of the school. She believes that at RACC they are extremely dedicated to the mission of bettering the social welfare of not only the students but also the community. She chose a place to work at where there could potentially be less poverty because, she said, “Student loans are killing people and our students.” Once she found herself being a professor for RACC, she began to become more than just a teacher but also a mentor to many students.
There are many different teachers and professors at RACC, but there is something that sets asides Bower from the rest. She has this need and desire to improve the lives of her students not only through guiding them to a degree but to mentoring them about other problems.
A former student, Shae Lynn Harris shared some of her beliefs and opinions: “Danelle was one of my best professors at RACC. She is nurturing, patient, and willing to help her students in any way she possibly can.”
It is not only Harris, a graduate of the program, who has good things to say about her but many other students and teachers as well.
Arianna Ferreira, a former social work major, says “She was an incredibly kind and caring teacher. She wanted each and every one of her students to succeed. I succeeded in her class because of her personality and her teaching methods.”
It is easy to say that you are good at something and not have the facts or supporting opinions of others. Danelle has a universal goodness to her that everyone even herself can see. Being a mentor/advisor to students comes very easily to Bower.
“No, I don’t’ struggle,” she said, “I actually really enjoy it.”
For Bower, the educational environment is a place in which she can give back what was given to her. When she was in college, as a first -generation student, her advisor played a huge role in her college career. She said that if it weren’t for her advisor, she probably wouldn’t have a degree. She is now able to impact and influence students’ life on a different level, not only through academic guidance but through looking for financial help or other problems that could impede the education process.
Her love for her profession and being able to help other’s is shown in the way she thinks about the role she is in. There are challenging and easy parts of her job but she mostly focuses on the positive. Her favorite part about being a teacher and mentor is, “seeing the lightbulb go off.” She gets to see the same students over and over again and the growth and transformation that the students show is one of the most rewarding aspects of this career she says. Having the ability to help students believe in themselves when they have struggled with that all their life is something that Bower wouldn’t trade. There aren’t always positive and easy paths in this job and there are days where there are more struggles then not. The most challenging aspect of Bower’s teaching career is physically getting students to where they need to be. There is a pathway to success that has to be found but sometimes that pathway is harder to get to for various reasons.
“There is only so much I can do with teaching and support,” Bower said.
She tries to find a pathway of success through her teaching style and passing her information on to the students.
Teaching for Bower is not strictly about conveying information; she characterizes her teaching style as “a humanistic teacher,” which means that she is connecting with the students individually Inside the classroom, Bower always changes up her methods of instruction. There are some days that there is lecture for the class and then the next day there would be an activity where they are role playing live scenarios or possible situations that could be crossed. There is never one set teaching style in Danelle’s class. She is setting her students up for the real world through a multitude of lessons and how she is teaching them. She realizes that not all students learn the same and will not grasp the concept the same and she can see this so she changes her style to cater to those needs. Although she hopes that her students understand the material once leaving her class but she hopes for their takeaways to be much larger than that. Bower wants her students to be able to invest their time and effort into what they are doing. She says, “Anything worthwhile takes work, you have to put effort into it.”
Because Bower is a social work professor, there are going to be social problems that she is very passionate about. One of the biggest things Danelle focuses in on is poverty, specifically families in the United States.
She commented, “There is a vast wealth juxtaposed with incredible poverty.”
The social structures in America are set up to make it hard to escape poverty and that is something Bower is very passionate about getting involved with. She said that the major future social issue is going to be environmental justice. There is a lot of talk about climate change and she ties it into the poverty idea by saying “For some it could be life or death because not everyone has the resources to leave a place that is affected by climate change.” When asked have there been social issues that have been solved, she couldn’t bring herself to say yes.
“They are not solved but made a dent in,” she said. “We make an effort to make things right but then we find ourselves in the same shoes as we started.”
She references the opioid epidemic in how we have made a successful reach into trying to fix it yet we are still struggling with it.
Danelle Bower isn’t like any other social work professor. Her drive, character, and passion to teach her students about social injustices and how to be a person to help others shows through very clearly. Her students and their education come first and that is one of the most important qualities that a teacher can possess. Her belief that everyone has light to them even when they are surrounded by darkness encompasses who she is as a person. Maybe it was her brightly dressed figure or her warm smile that caught my attention, but ultimately there was a feeling of authenticity and passion towards me that made me so intrigued by who this woman was underneath the skin.