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Capital University News, California State University, Sacramento

October 6, 2003

Yuen’s students get lessons in lifelong learning

Students who ask the dreaded “Is this going to be on the test?” question in Francis Yuen’s class don’t often get an answer they want. Using everything from corny jokes to proverbs, the social work professor hammers home the point they already have everything they need to know – in the material on his 15-page syllabus.

Photo of Francis Yuen
Francis Yuen

“I tell my students, ‘You have to take responsibility to read the material. I’m there to help you but I’m not going to hold your hand,’” says Yuen, the most recent Outstanding Teacher in the College of Health and Human Services. “I want them to become lifelong active adult learners.”

Yuen finds sometimes a metaphor or a story can apply to a situation and help students remember. “Part of the fun of teaching is telling stories. They may not remember the whole lectures, but they may remember the stupid jokes,” he says.

Lifelong learning applies to professors as well, Yuen says. He believes professors can continue to learn, through both practice and research. “Social work is a practice profession and having instructors involved in practice is essential to effective and relevant teaching. We have to teach what we practice and practice what we teach,” he says.

After graduating from Hong Kong Shue Yan College in social work, Yuen began a practice working with street gangs. He continued to practice while earning both his master’s degree and doctorate in social work from the University of Alabama. “It helped me know that I don’t know everything in this profession,” he says.

His research focuses on families in transition, health, holistic well-being, at-risk behaviors, cultural competency and identity, program development and management, and practice evaluation. He has authored or co-authored eight books as well as dozens of book chapters and articles.

“I am lucky I have colleagues who have mentored me to engage in writing. I believe that social work faculty have the responsibility to demystify research and actively engage in research activities with students and the practice community,” he says.

His emphasis on practice also includes preparing students to professionally cope with what they’ll face in the field. He notes that students need to understand how to handle emotion and reality in a professional manner, such as proper self-disclosure and ethical practice.

“One thing I do is challenge them to develop congruency between their own values, clients’ values and their professional values. They need to be able to think professionally to bring about change,” he says. “A student may be a liberal person but clients may not share those beliefs. The profession has standards of mutual respect.”

The demand for accountability can also be an unexpected challenge which Yuen addresses in his courses on program development and grant-writing “It’s nice to talk about how things should work, but how do you make it work and pay for it?” he says. “And once it is funded you want to make sure it’s done properly. It can get frustrating. If practitioners don’t have the maturity to anchor themselves, the system can burn them out.”

But with the trying times come learning opportunities, Yuen notes. “Most students have a sense of social justice that draws them to look for the social root of the problem. Former students often tell me that the profession has also forced them to look inside.”


California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 •
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California State University, Sacramento • Public Affairs
6000 J Street • Sacramento, CA 95819-6026 • (916) 278-6156 •