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UB's Social Work Students to Experience the Plight of the Poor through 'Poverty Simulation'

Release Date: August 26, 2010

BUFFALO, N. Y. – This year's incoming University at Buffalo Master's of Social Work class will have a unique chance to imagine what it is like to live one month of poverty during the school's first-ever "poverty simulation" incorporated in the school's student orientation.

About 75 master's students entering UB's School of Social Work curriculum will be part of the role-playing exercise simulating the plight of 26 different families facing poverty. The simulation will take place from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday, Aug. 27, in 107 Talbert Hall on UB's Amherst Campus.

"The primary goal of a poverty simulation is to sensitize participants to the everyday realities faced by low-income families in America, which comprise a large proportion of the people served by social workers in a multitude of settings," says Nancy J. Smyth, dean of the School of Social Work. "A poverty simulation provides participants with new perspectives on poverty and how it impacts American families."

The mix of UB students and staff and volunteers from the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County will carry out the poverty simulation, acting through various scenarios common to low-income families. Those participating in the training and consciousness-raising will take the roles of members of low-income families, from single parents trying to care for their children to senior citizens trying to maintain their independence on Social Security.

Each family must provide for basic necessities and shelter during the course of four 15-minute "weeks." The families then seek assistance from a variety of human services organizations. The simulation uses "play" money and other props, fictional scenarios and time limits to provide an accurate portrayal of what life below the poverty line is like.

"We are very excited to be conducting this poverty simulation," says Diane E. Elze, associate professor and director of the M.S.W. Program. "Buffalo is the third-poorest city in the country and among the top 10 worst cities for children of color to grow up, based on indicators of child well-being in a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health.

"We thought this would be a way for students to begin their journey toward becoming professional social workers," Elze says. "In their courses, they will be learning about the structural and institutional causes of poverty, and this simulation will sensitize them to poverty's impact on the daily lives of families."

Media interested in covering the exercise and discussing the experience with students can call Charles Anzalone in UB's Office of Communications at (716) 645-4600.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.

Media Contact Information

Charles Anzalone
News Content Manager
Education, Educational Opportunity Center, Law,
Academies, Honors College, Student Activities

Tel: 716-645-4600
anzalon@buffalo.edu