Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!

Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!  This blog was created by current student Ambassadors of the UNC School of Social Work MSW programs for people like you: Prospective students interested in getting a glimpse of our Master of Social Work program from the student angle.  Feel free to contact Student Ambassadors if you want to learn more!

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The Social Work Lens

20141026_132638 The North Carolina State Fair just recently wrapped up, and let me tell y’all, it was a hoot! Fried foods that never should have been dipped in a vat of hot oil, amusement rides with dubious safety requirements, and disproportional financial burdens placed on poor and disabled folks—

Alright. Re-do. This post isn’t about the Fair. It’s about what I call the “Social Work Lens” or “Why has everyone at the dinner table stopped talking since I brought up structural injustice.”

Let me give you a little background. My field placement is with an Assertive Community Treatment Team. We provide wrap-around health, mental health, and case management services for people with severe and persistent mental illness (schizophrenia, bipolar, and the like). This past week, we took a group of clients to the Fair as part of a psychosocial rehabilitation outing. Like many agencies, organizations, and families, we saw this as an opportunity to encourage participation in an event ostensibly open to all, including those with mental, physical, and/or development disabilities.

During the outing, it quickly became apparent that this was not the case. One of my clients had a mobility limitation that needed to be addressed early in the outing. There were three little white tents at the Fair where you could rent a wheelchair and/or electric scooter for the day if needed.

20141026_125907Here’s the catch: wheelchairs were $15 and scooters were $35. Two of the three tents were located by the gates next to handicap parking. The other tent was located far away on the other side of the fairgrounds. Now, while I can applaud the organizers of the Fair for some semblance of universal design, it stops after one or two claps: 1) The rental costs disproportionally burden those with mobility issues who wish to attend the Fair, and 2) locating the tents near handicap parking is all and good, but what about those people who do not own a car and/or don’t have handicap stickers? The messages potentially communicated is that if you’re disabled, you’re a burden so you have to pay more; if you’re poor, you don’t fit the mold for what disability looks like, so don’t bother coming.

The example above is only a microcosm of the disproportionate burdens societal, political, and economic systems place on many of the people with which we work as social workers. I bring up this case not so much to decry the Fair as source of structural injustice (quite frankly, I’m more worried about affordable housing, comprehensive physical and mental healthcare coverage, supportive employment placements, decriminalization of mental illness, etc.) as to illustrate one of the gifts a good social work education provides: an ability to recognize, name, and push back against injustice no matter the circumstance. It’s this Social Work Lens which makes our profession uniquely prepared to rally in solidarity with those affected by systems of oppression in order to fight towards collective liberation. It doesn’t make us quite popular at dinner parties, it may alienate us from particular friend groups, and it’s not a job for the weary. Nonetheless, it is what makes our job a meaningful calling. To continually strive for the unapologetic well-being of all sounds pretty good to me.

If that sounds good to you, take a break from that application, grab a piece of funnel cake, and start helping me write some emails: http://www.ncstatefair.org/2014/Visitor/StaffDirectory.htm

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Until next time, y’all!

Andrew

Posted in Uncategorized

The Home Stretch

We are entering the final week of October, and for those of us in the Winston-Salem and Triangle distance ed programs, that means four weeks of classes left in the semester. Yes…one, two, three, FOUR more 9-to-5 Fridays, then zero—that’s ZERO—classes until early January.

The number four hasn’t sounded this good since Sesame Street.

As I scan my desk calendar, though, I realize that this is a tricky four. It’s a four that will include two presentations, two assignments due, and a couple more hours of CEUs to be completed. Oh, and let’s not forget the final paper that’s due two and a half weeks after the end of the four. In other (statistical) words, with four weeks of classes to go, approximately 60% of my work load for the semester is still ahead of me.

Four just became much less sexy.

Never fear, though—I’ve done this before. This is the home stretch of a long-distance race, and I can see the finish line. The great thing about this period is that there’s no more pacing myself. It’s an all-out sprint—no questions asked, do the next thing in front of me, and keep moving. It’s hard, it’s stressful, it’s exhausting, but I know that by the time the pumpkin pie is on the Thanksgiving table, I’ll be finished with classes and have only one last paper to finish—and a week and a half to do it.  After that, it’s Christmas music on the radio and sleeping late for the next four Fridays.

Suddenly, four sounds really nice again.

Posted in Academics, In the Classroom

The Value of Networking (Relationship Building)

Before you read this blog post, pause and think about the following questions:

  • Where are you today?
  • Who along the way has helped you get to this point?
  • What barriers have you had to overcome?
  • What experiences have shaped your journey and impacted your current path?
  • Where do you want to go?
  • How can you get there?

I love learning about where people have been and where they are headed. Whenever I’m around people who are at the top of their career or can tell they are headed that way, I can’t help but wonder what their journey has looked like. In my opinion, there is so much value and opportunity for personal growth when we learn from other people’s journeys. We can learn what to do and what not to do.

It is only through relationships that we are able to truly connect with one another. This is how I view networking–relationship building. Networking is a chance to engage individuals in a meaningful and purposeful way to form a connection. The connections you make, the relationships you build, have the potential to greatly influence your journey.

The phrase “it’s not what you know but who know” holds some truth. The people you cultivate relationships with can help vouch for you. My field instructor recently told me networking simply gets your foot in the door. Once you are in the door you have to highlight your knowledge & experience (your journey) to your potential employer.

Networking does not have to be an impersonal experience where you simply hand someone your business card. Get creative! Why be afraid to highlight yourself to the world? You have so much to offer–don’t forget it! :)

Why wait? Start networking (relationship building) NOW! Here are some tips & ideas:

  1. Create a LinkedIn. If you already have one make sure it’s current. Keep these three things in mind: where you are, where you’ve been, and where you’re headed. Take advantage of all the different avenues we have at our fingertips to build & cultivate relationships.
  2. Look at the faculty directory on the schools you are applying to. Are there professors whose research interests align with yours? Reach out to them and make contact. Express your interest in their research. If you are in the area schedule a time to meet.
  3. Follow-up with the contacts you’ve made. If you attended an event (conference, workshop etc.) and heard a speaker or spoke with someone who appeared to have similar interests as you…follow-up with them! Send them an email and make sure to mention where you heard or met them.
  4. Keep up with the contacts you’ve already made. Check in with the relationships you’ve already built and continue cultivating them.
  5. Attend local networking events!
  6. Here are some links to some webpages that might be helpful:

Relationships matter. 

Hope this helps! :)

Posted in Uncategorized

Learning Continues Outside

This coming week I will be attending the CSWE APM and I am extremely excited.  My first professional social work conference. I have absolutely no idea what to expect, but as it is my first time attending a social work conference and my first time in Tampa, I fully intend to make the most of this trip. I am attending this conference as a means to develop professionally as well as network with others who have similar interests especially as a final year student about to begin the job search.

I’ve been reading up on a few of the sessions and some I would like to attend include “Finding Balance Through the Wobble: Mindfulness-Based Interventions With Children and Adolescents” and “The Use of Service Dogs with Deployment Related PTSD.”  I mean what better way to reach children and adolescents through music and dance and dogs are a man’s best friend right?  Needless to say, I will be attending some very interesting sessions while learning new ways to effectively reach different populations.

As for the city of Tampa, home of Busch Gardens, TB Bucs and Rays, a zoo and an aquarium, I can’t wait to explore with my classmates.  As of right now I’m expecting sunny skies and low 80’s, a little different than NC weather right now, but perfect for a tourist.  That’s all I have for now, but I’ll be back to report on the conference and my experience.  See you later!!!!

Posted in Events

You Don’t Have to Have It All Figured Out

I’m a planner. A worrier. A control-freak. A flat out-perfectionist, to a fault. I like to have every I dotted and every T crossed before I begin, and once I get going on a course of action, changing the plan is the last thing I want to do. It’s not hard to understand then, how, as I applied to the Advanced Standing program, I wanted to have my career written in stone before I even got the acceptance email. However, as we all know, that’s not how life works, and that’s definitely not how my MSW journey has been.

My Field Experience

I began the advanced standing program in the Direct Practice Concentration. Though I knew that I ultimately wanted to practice social work on a larger scale, I had little direct experience outside of my BSW practicum. Aside from the gap year between undergrad and graduate school, I had spent the past 18 years as a student!! Thus, I wanted to gain more of the skills that could be gained through one-on-one client experience to set the foundation for working with communities and policies. However, not long into the program, I began feeling some ambivalence. On the one hand, I was taking more macro-focused electives – and LOVING every bit of it – from creating a nonprofit and learning how to effectively market it to listening to guest lectures by community organizers and individuals who help create sustainable communities. However, my field placement was very micro-focused. I would find myself getting excited about the theories and concepts learned in class but felt that I didn’t have a work environment to practically apply them. I felt a disconnect.

After a lot of soul-searching and many discussions with my classmates, this ambivalence led me to have a discussion with my field advisor about my field placement. After our conversation, I decided to “tough it out” for a few more weeks and see if my feelings changed. As I mentioned before, once I get going in a direction, I’m not a big fan of changing the plan, so though I decided to give a shot.

THE WEEK BEFORE THE FALL SEMESTER…

Pretty much, nothing changed. If anything, my feelings intensified. So, I had another conversation with my field advisor, and this time, we made some changes. After meeting with her, we met with my field instructor at my internship. Between the three of us, we worked out changes to my learning contract that allowed for me decrease some of my direct client work and take on more macro tasks. Though it is still somewhat difficult in a very micro-focused setting, at the end of this year, in addition to an array of direct practice skills, I will be able to add task group facilitation, program evaluation, fundraising, marketing, and hopefully grant writing to my professional toolbox. And though things are not perfect – I’d still love to solely be doing macro practice – the variety of knowledge and skills that I am gaining make my plan of study feel better tailored to my professional goals.

Change is a Wonderful Thing

The changes brought upon me with my revamped learning plan have taught me that even when I think I have it all figured out, I probably don’t. As I continue in the MSW program and learn more about myself and my passions, I am discovering that change is actually a wonderful thing. When things begin to feel like they don’t align, change allows me adjust accordingly. Instead of just accepting things as they are because they are a part of “the plan,” change allows me to create an even better plan!

S/O to the Field Office!

In closing, I couldn’t end without acknowledging the role that the Field Education office has played in my experience. I was initially worried that they would not be open to my desire to change aspects of my field placement to reflect my macro interests. However, I was surprised with how open they were to my input and how cooperative they were in helping me make the changes. Coming from a BSW program that was more rigid when it came to field placements, I was relieved that they were so understanding.

Just Pick One

So, for all you guys who are filling out the MSW application whose cursors are hovering between the Direct Practice, Community Management and Policy Practice, and Self-Directed options, just know that whatever you choose, is not set in stone. As you enter the program, your interests and goals may change – and that’s perfectly okay. Just pick one, and be open to where the journey takes you! You don’t – and won’t – have it all figured out. :)

Posted in Academics, Field Work, Uncategorized

The Benefits of Fall Pause… I mean Fall Break.

          Last semester after beginning the MSW program, I jokingly referred to Fall Break, which is a period of three days the university does not hold class, as “Fall Pause”. Literally, it seemed like a joke in the midst of all the papers, readings, and group projects that were in my planner the week prior to fall break and the weeks after fall break.

            However, this year, I have a new perspective. This year, I am going to soak up every minute of fall break and actually allow myself to chill out. In graduate school, I am finding that “self care” becomes a random statement that is mentioned often but hardly ever followed through with. Being busy eats up all of our time and we have lost the ability to be idle. In an article I read today, “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, Tim Krieger states, “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets”. (Krieger, 2012). That article was a newsflash to me because I never understood the harmful effects that being busy could have on my mind! I had accepted it as a part of my life! So now, with fall break coming up, I have decided that on at least one of the days, I am going to allow myself to sleep until I wake up without an alarm, I am not going to respond or check email, and I am going to purposefully allow myself to indulge in whatever fun activities I can think of. If that involves just lounging around my apartment all day, then that’s that. So I challenge you, if you’re in school or if you’re working full time, or whatever you do with your life, take a day, or some hours to be idle and relax! Your mind needs it!

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Check out the referenced article here:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/30/the-busy-trap/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=1

Posted in Uncategorized

I have a crush, and it’s my Field Placement…

Do you know what a field placement is? What about a practicum? Internship? These are all words that are used to describe the portion of the Social Work curriculum that takes place OUTSIDE of the classroom. We spend hours, days, weeks, even an entire year at our field placements while pursuing a degree in Social Work. It’s kind of a big deal… and I’m finally admitting I have a crush on my field placement.

The field placement is an extremely important piece to the curriculum. While I love learning in the classroom and being challenged by my peers I absolutely love my field placement. It gives me a space to apply what I’m learning in the classroom to real life situations. I learned early on (in my BSW) program how important your field placement is and the positive or negative implications it can have on your education. So right now, make a mental note that it is important to do you research on field placement options and advocate for yourself when choosing the one for you.

Since my concentration is CMPP (community, management, policy practice) my field placement is a Macro placement with the Family Support Program at the School of Social Work. Since I’m an advanced standing student I have been at my placement since the end of June. I could not have imagined the wonderful opportunities and experiences that were going to come out of this field placement and it’s only October! I still have 6 months left to learn from these wonderful mentors. So if you are considering Macro social work and the CMPP concentration, here is a look into my world:

office

What are some of the things I’ve been doing?

  • Grant writing, searching for funding through various sites such as PIVOT, planning a meeting to bring various people together to discuss collaborating for grants
  • Writing a Business plan
  • Creating a policies and procedure manual for our Seminar Series
  • Creating evaluations on a software called Qualitrics
  • Analyzing the evaluations
  • Attending community stakeholder meetings
  • Helping create a new website
  • Analyzing data to create state level reports for grants
  • Developing a needs assessment
  • Exhibiting at conferences

Exhibit 2

The list goes on an on and on! I absolutely love that I have the ability to wear various hats throughout the day and work on different projects. I’m blessed to have a field supervisor with a dual degree (MPA/MSW) that takes supervision and mentoring me very seriously. Wherever I can use classroom assignments/discussions/teachings in my field placement, I do. The crossover really helps solidify the material and my learning!

I hope this has helped you see a little into the world of a CMPP placement and all the wonderful opportunities one can have.

Posted in Field Work | Tagged ,