The first students in West Virginia Universitys Wheeling, W.Va.-based masters program in social work will graduate July 22.

Nineteen students will accept their degrees at 6 p.m. that day at the Ohio Valley Medical Center Old Nursing Residence Auditorium, on Eoff Street in Wheeling.

The commencement address will be delivered by Dr. Patricia Chase, who advised the students during their first two years in the program.

WVU s Division of Social Work established the program in the Northern Panhandle city in 2003. The off-campus program was designed so people could have the chance to earn a masters in social work without living on WVU s main campus in Morgantown.

Which was the only way Marsha Woods could have earned her degree, the program supervisor at Northwood Health Systems said.

I am a single mother,Woods noted,and I never would have been able to earn my graduate degree had this program not been offered in Wheeling.

Students take four semesters of coursework and complete almost 1,000 hours of field placement, she said, including 24 hourswork of field seminars.

Wheeling is one of six locales the program is offered in through the Division of Social Work at the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.

Other programs are offered in Morgantown, Keyser, Martinsburg, Charleston and Beckley.

A second class of 24 students will graduate in 2008, program organizers say, and applications are now being taken for a third class in Wheeling which will begin its studies next year.

The Wheeling program has also been bolstered by an affiliation agreement with the Ohio Valley Medical Center for classrooms, office space and administrative support. A reception to celebrate that partnership is planned for fall, said Chatman Neely, site coordinator for the Wheeling masters program.

OVMC has been incredibly supportive,Neely said.We are very pleased to enter this formal relationship with them.

For more information on the program, contact Neely at cneely@swave.net or 304-737-0647.