On her way to her work one day at Multnomah County's Shelter Care Unit
(serving battered, abused, neglected, and abandoned children), Beryl
Robison (MSW '72, PhD PAP '04) asked her four-year old son if he knew
what she did for a living. He said yes and explained "you put kids in
softer homes." Her four-year-old had given her one of the best
definitions of her job she had heard.
Beryl was a social worker long before we had the honor to count her as a graduate of PSU's Master in Social Work program. She started her career working for the Albermarle County welfare office in Virginia. Beryl was one of four case workers, managing one-quarter of the public assistance cases in the county. Although the state had formulas for determining public assistance, County Supervisors had the ultimate decision about the amount and type of welfare grants individuals would receive. It was her job to present cases to the County Supervisors and make recommendations regarding public assistance.
At that time in Virginia, there were just three careers considered "professions" by the State - doctors, lawyers, and social workers. She earned her social work certification and enjoyed her work.
Beryl and her husband moved to Oregon and she was hired by Waverly Baby Home (later Waverly Children's Home). She was the sole adoption case worker and in her one year at Waverly, she placed 50 babies in homes. Beryl was a new mom herself at the time and she found the experience the most rewarding of all in her career.
When her husband went to Vietnam, she returned to Maryland to live closer to family and worked in parole and probation, and then as a school social worker in a pre-head start program. It was clear to her, regardless of the place she was working or the people she was serving, social work fed her passion to make a difference for the greater good.
When Beryl and her family returned to Oregon, she took the civil service exam to obtain a position in Oregon's Child Welfare Department. She received the highest score in the state that year, but they did not hire her while she was pregnant.
After her child was born, Beryl worked in Multnomah County's Shelter Care, a unit that serves battered, abused, or abandoned children identified by the police. Beryl and her colleagues would find emergency foster care for these kids and over the next 30 days, participate in court hearings and make recommendations about their long-term care.
Through her work in pre-head start in Virginia, Beryl had the opportunity to travel to the Peabody Institute in Tennessee, and to Johns Hopkins in Baltimore to learn about new programs and research in the field. Beryl met and talked with graduate students and they inspired her to enroll in graduate school, once she could afford to do so.
Beryl was admitted to the MSW program where she concentrated on direct human services. She spent the bulk of her placements working with clients in public health mental health. Her second year placement was at Lower Columbia Mental Health Center in Longview, where she continued after graduation as a therapist for six years.
Beryl's interest in public policy led her to a new and groundbreaking challenge, becoming the first woman elected to the Board of Cowlitz County Commissioners. She served in this role until 1985.
Beryl's tenure on the Board was full of new experiences, including being chairman of the Board when Mt. St. Helens erupted. With executive, administrative, and legislative authority over the County, she and the Board of Cowlitz County Commissioners worked very closely with FEMA, USGS, and Corps of Engineers to manage the disaster and ensure those impacted by the eruption had the protection they needed.
Beryl thoroughly enjoyed the challenge as a County Commissioner, but at the end of two terms, she decided not to run again. While serving, she passed up the opportunity to attend law school and instead, Beryl returned to PSU to earn a Doctorate in Public Administration. She remarked with some amusement that it took her so long to complete her doctorate that she went through four dissertation committee chairs. Her dissertation focused on the question of where Organization Development can become a profession like social work or psychology. She met with the "gurus and godfathers" of organization development and utilized her undergraduate degree in sociology to study the sociology of professions. She compared Organization Development to the professions of social work and psychology. She completed her PhD in 2004. Ironically, the College of Urban and Public Affairs that she attended was built on the same site where Multnomah County Shelter Care was located years earlier.
Beryl's passion for making a difference in people's lives continues through her volunteer work with the Council for the Homeless, a non-profit organization in Vancouver dedicated to ending homelessness. The Council is a joint partnership between the city, county, Vancouver Housing Authority, and community members. She still serves on this Council and hopes to develop a field placement for an MSW in the Social Service Administration and Leadership track in the future.
While she continues to serve on the Council for Homelessness, Beryl is embarking on a new challenge - writing a book! She recently attended a High School Reunion and was noted that many of her classmates seemed to have more in common now than they did in high school. She will start interviewing her classmates this month with hopes of publishing a book on their lives. Last year, she edited a self-help book.
Beryl encourages social workers to consider running for elected office. "Social Work values and perspectives really lend themselves to public office," she noted. She once ended a speech at Washington's NASW headquarters with the quote 'rather than supporting candidates, be candidates.'