Photo: CSW program instructor, Bryan Coker at his home office in Ottawa
Do you know someone who's taken the Community Services Worker (CSW) program at Herzing? Just mention the name Bryan Coker. You'll see their eyes light up right away.
Bryan's been teaching the CSW program for 10 years and is absolutely beloved among students and graduates.
His unique background as a pastor, social worker, community organizer, and counsellor helps him connect with people in a very unique way.
Bryan's teaching style goes far beyond the "mechanics" of social work and community services.
He helps students reflect on their own lives and struggles, and cultivate their own unique approach as counsellors.
Bryan says students leave his class "with a changed heart", open and ready to assist others.
They walk away with the mindset, tools, and knowledge required to make real change in their own communities. From what graduates tell us, it's a pretty transformative experience!
Are you considering a career in social services? Wondering what to expect from community support worker training?
Read on to meet the instructor, and get an inside look at Herzing's CSW program
Q: Bryan, can you tell us about your education and professional experience in social work?
Bryan: First off, I am a people person. I see myself as a perpetual student who never "graduates" and is always ready to learn more. Over the years, I have done numerous courses and seminars in people development, counselling, grief, small group dynamics, addictions, etc.
After completing my 4-year Bachelor of Theology (B.Th.) degree, I was a pastor in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Ontario. I worked with youth, couples, and families. I did a lot of counselling and helped people navigate various situations in life, from weddings to funerals, joy and excitement, to sorrow and grief.
I was also part of a group that brought Vietnamese refugees to our town and provided all the things they needed to begin their new lives in Canada.
I held volunteer executive positions in church governance committees. I was invited to be on the committee that set up the pastoral services department for the Markham-Stouffville hospital. I was part of a group that set up and started a new Food Bank in Stouffville, ON.
I did an Ontario government contract working as the Chaplain at the Brockville Jail, where I worked with inmates and their families. I revamped the whole volunteer visiting program for the prison and represented the prison in the community.
Later I was invited to work in addictions. I was a Counsellor/Case Manager at Newgate 180 in Merrickville, ON and was promoted to Men’s Program Manager.
For many years I was able to help so many people deal with their addiction issues. I was honoured to share the struggles and the victories as people made choices to get clean.
Q: How long have you been teaching the CSW program at Herzing College Ottawa?
Bryan: In 2011, I became the instructor for the Community Services Worker program at Herzing College Ottawa. In this position I have been honoured to receive the Instructor of the Year award for both Ottawa and for Herzing Colleges Canada.
My life has revolved around helping people get through challenging circumstances successfully. I am a teacher, speaker, and counsellor who gives back to the world what I have been given. I bring caring, hope, support, comfort... and I also have a lot of fun along the way.
Q: Graduates rave about how much they loved your class. What makes the CSW program so special?
Bryan: The CSW program is unique. While it is an academic program, I do not just equip my students with theory and technical knowledge. If I do that, I have not succeeded.
To prepare them fully, I give them opportunities to look closely at their own lives, and to work through the issues of their own past and present.
When they do that, they become so engaged in the program and their hearts are changed. Then they are truly ready to be effective in the work they will do. They have caring and understanding and a natural desire to help people.
I get to know each of my students and they get to know me. I serve them as an instructor, mentor, coach, counsellor and confidant. We laugh together and we cry together.
My students consistently give me outstanding ratings in their evaluations of each class. But in my world, I am just Bryan Coker, doing my job as best I can and feeling so fortunate to do what I do. I have the best students and I sincerely develop a love for each of them.
Q: What are the most important skills students learn in the CSW program?
Bryan: First off, some have limited computer skills and are nervous about using technology. My students will need to use computers in their work. They learn not to be afraid and they develop confidence in their computer skills.
They also need to learn the academics: sociology, populations at risk; interviewing and counselling, abnormal mental health and addictions.
Most students who come to CSW are natural people-helpers. They possess the soft skills internally.
My job is to give them clearer insight into themselves and challenge them to develop their strengths even further, while understanding that they also possess weaknesses that they must be aware of.
Q: Which parts of the Community Services Worker program are usually the toughest for students?
Bryan: The most challenging would be the personal reflection essays, where students talk about what their life has dealt them, and how they have managed those experiences.
These assignments bring back the past, but in the end the students talk about how helpful it was for their own personal and professional growth.
Also, we study some anatomy and physiology, which some students find challenging, such as parts of the brain, central nervous system, etc.
Q: And which CSW courses are often the favourites?
Bryan: Students tend to really enjoy the courses on Interviewing, Counselling, Psychology, Abnormal Mental Health and Addiction.
Q: How would you describe the role of a Community Services Worker? What's it really all about?
Bryan: Community Services Workers are front-line workers who relieve society’s inequities through caring, helping and supporting people during critical periods in their lives.
Q: How do your students develop their counselling skills?
Bryan: They do role plays where they practice interviewing and counselling each other in class. The students also interview people outside of class, and they look at various scenarios and demonstrate what they would do to help that person.
Q: CSWs work with a lot of different at-risk groups. What are the most common career paths?
Bryan: Many graduates like to seek out large, diverse organizations that serve multiple at-risk populations. This gives them various opportunities for advancement in their career, and the chance to try different areas of service.
CSW is a very vast field with multiple career opportunities. I have also had students who have gone on and completed Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees after finishing the CSW program. They wanted to go further in their career in social work.
Q: Where can a new CSW graduate expect to find work in Ottawa?
Bryan: One of our partner organizations who we do internships with is a residence for developmentally delayed youth and young adults. Several CSW graduates find employment there after completing their internships.
Many of our international students find employment within their own cultural group’s social service systems.
Q: What age groups and backgrounds do your students come from? Are the classes very diverse?
Bryan: We definitely have a diversity of life experience and age. I've had students ranging from late teens and twenties, to people in their seventies!
What our CSW class members all have in common is they care about each other and they help each other integrate into the flow of the classroom.
No matter what a person’s age, there is the fear or anxiety of entering into a new academic environment. But there are others who are willing to support and help your transition into academic life. And, as the instructor, I too am there to help anyone who may need it.
Q: How does someone know they’re a good fit for this career? What does it take to become a great Community Services Worker?
Bryan: If you are a person who likes people in general, who genuinely likes to help others, and have a caring heart, then you would be a good fit for CSW.
When you are finished your diploma, just imagine getting paid for what you naturally like to do! Plus, you have increased your understanding and skill to be a successful CSW. It is a recipe for success!
Q: Any last words of advice for potential new students? What should they know upfront about your class?
Bryan: When I am in my classroom, I am Herzing College to all of my students. I take that responsibility seriously. I want to help you become the best you can be as a CSW, but I also want you to have some fun along the way. That’s what our class is like.
In closing, I want to you to picture me, years ago. I came from a family who had no post- secondary education. I wanted to get a degree, so I went and applied. I was anxious and afraid. Can I do it?
I was accepted and the journey began. It was not “a breeze”… it took a lot of work and study, but I did it! I got my degree! Looking back, I wonder how many regrets I would have had if I'd stayed in my fear of education. I would not be where I am today.
It would be my privilege to welcome you into my class. I will help you make your life even better! You have my word. Just ask my graduates.
Thank-you Bryan, for sharing your experience, advice, and insights. We're very proud to have you on the faculty at Herzing College Ottawa.
Learn more about the CSW program at Herzing College
Herzing's CSW program is 12 months long, including an 8-week internship at an Ottawa community organization. Training also includes certificates in MS (Microsoft) 100, First Aid and CPR.
Our graduates have been hired at several leading organizations, including Immigrant Women Services, Ottawa Freedom Centre, Harmer House, Bairncroft Residential Services, Vanier Community Centre, Mary Homes, Partners in Parenting, Christian Horizons, and Terrace Youth Residential Services.
If you'd like to learn more, your next step is to connect with an Admissions Advisor.
An Advisor can walk you through courses, careers, tuition, and class schedules. We can also help you with financial aid, including submitting your application for OSAP.
We often offer scholarships for the Community Service Worker program. Ask your Admissions Advisor for details!
Click below to explore the CSW program and chat live with an Advisor. We're here to help.