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!
This year, in my field placement at UNC Family Medicine, I had the opportunity to help host around 40 of our patients for a warm Thanksgiving dinner. Planning for the event lasted the majority of the fall semester with new tasks cropping up weekly. Early on in our planning work, I worried that I would be like Snoopy and scrambling to make enough toast and popcorn to feed our guests.
But on Wednesday night, our patients were treated to warm turkey, side options ranging from the mainstream to the more exotic, a multitude of desserts, and even hot pizza for the kids in attendance. Additionally, we collected enough canned goods with the UNC School of Social Work, UNC School of Public Health Student Government, PORCH organization in Carrboro, and a collection site at UNC Family Medicine Clinic, that we were able to send each patient or family home with two full bags of groceries.
While so many of the guests I talked to were thankful for our efforts, I really feel that I have just as much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. In planning the event, I worked with a small team of committed individuals who were determined to host the best Thanksgiving dinner possible. I have the resources and abilities to make connections in the community and solicit donations. And most importantly, the patients that I work with and those who attended are gracious in allowing me to be part of their lives and part of their experiences at UNC Family Medicine. Despite my role as an MSW student intern, some of the people in attendance at our Thanksgiving dinner have trusted me and opened up to me and allowed me to continue growing in my chosen profession. And for that ability and opportunity to connect with people, I am most thankful.
Where has the time gone? Tomorrow evening marks the beginning of Thanksgiving Break, which will be followed by our last week of class! If you are a first-year, this means that you survived your first semester of grad school at UNC’s School of Social Work. If you are a final year student, this is your last semester at the SSW and you are less than 34 weeks (233 days) away from graduation! That number can be both exciting and overwhelming.
Use Thanksgiving Break to relax, surround yourself with family and friends, and remember to be thankful for having the opportunity to realize your goals. After that, buckle down for the final assignments and last field hours of 2013. After this break, the time has come for the first-years to examine what kind of field placement you want to have: what do you want to experience and what do you wish to learn? For us final years, after T-Break, we will need to buckle down further to put the final touches on our resumes, cover letters, and social media accounts (for job seeking purposes). The time has (almost) come to think about what you want to do after May 11, 2014 and where you want to do it. Believe it or not, the end is near! Appreciate how far you have come and make sure to enjoy these last couple months – especially the 4.5 week winter break that most of us will never experience again!
Ambivalence is something we run into with our clients, in our institutional settings, even within ourselves, on a daily basis. It’s that existence of two polar opposites in one moment, where two seemingly contradictory states of being coexist. This is a very real state of being for students who are looking forward to their break from school even while they’re aware that they’re receiving a valuable education that they will soon miss when school is over. It’s the competing interest of both euphoria because of a wonderful experience and the deep sadness about the impending end of the experience.
Why is it important for social workers to face these feelings of ambivalence? For one it is a part of mindfulness that cannot be ignored. Realizing that we’re capable of contradiction brings us closer to other people who make up the systems that we work with. If we feel conflicted we can remember that we’re not alone, because our clients, colleagues, and even strangers we haven’t met yet are sharing in this very human response to the world around them at times.
I’ve noticed that the experience of getting a degree can have the effect of creating “experts” rather than reminding us that the expert knowledge depends upon interactions with other people. Even “experts” must continue to grow and learn in order to maintain that label. Every encounter with people throughout our lives can help us to grow and change our outlook on the world and become a better person. Our clients don’t just need us, we need our clients to continue to become better social workers.
Mixed feelings and being unsure of what one wants, come up throughout our career. We can feel the urge to help everyone with the competing reality of limited resources. The topic of gate keeping, which inevitably comes up in our work, is a contentious issue that can bring people with many different perspective, to this field for different reasons. And it’s important to constantly continue our learning and challenge ourselves to never feel like we’ve made it to the end of that knowledge and not become too stagnant in our identities. We can’t limit our own thinking to become intolerant of people with opposing viewpoints or we might be stunting our own development as well rounded social workers.
Social work is a constantly evolving field, because we work in environments which are consistently adapting, and the way we navigate through these changes are by committing to values/beliefs, a “code of ethics,” a way of behaving. We hold tight to our end goals even when that path becomes confused by contradictory feelings from whatever life throws our way. When school gets tough we visualize that degree and the light at the end of the tunnel. Let us be the change we wish to see in the world and continue to help our clients, friends, and agencies hold on to the light at the end of the tunnel.
Whereas every day I try to remember to be thankful, I am especially mindful of being thankful during this Thanksgiving season. As a clinical social worker, I am exposed to people with varying degrees of pain, hurt, and disappointment in their lives. My clients’ lives saddening my heart and driving my intensity to search for evidence based interventions and resources. Each day increasing my awareness of how much more I should be grateful regarding things I might otherwise take for granted, such as being able to tie up my shoes, having a place to call home, and having the presence of mind to know I have family that loves me. Even throughout my day as a social worker in the Emergency Department, I find myself whispering a prayer of thankfulness, as I prepare to help families manage life demanding traumas. This is a time of the year where each of us is reminded to be thankful and to give thanks.
It is a time of the year for not only inner reflections of thankfulness, but a time to express our thankfulness to others. Inspirational maxims writer William Arthur Ward said, “Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” There are many ways in which one can outwardly express one’s thankfulness this coming Thanksgiving season, and some of them are:
• Write a handwritten thank you note – handwritten notes are particularly nice during this age of texting and emailing
• Take the time to actually listen – the gift of your presence is priceless
• Gift you to a charitable organization in your community, such as helping to feed the homeless
• Remember that little things still make a big difference
For me, it is a time of the year where I will do a little of all of the above, and I especially take the time to tell God thank you!
However you say THANKS, take a minute to express your thankfulness!
Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to present at my very first national conference, the Annual Program Meeting for the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), which was held in Dallas, TX this year. With CSWE considered one of the biggest conferences for researchers in the field of social work, and seeing myself as merely an inexperienced second-year doctoral student, you could only imagine how nervous and afraid I was to present. I had nightmares that my alarm didn’t go off and I slept through the presentation, that I forgot the jump drive with final presentation at home, and that I forgot everything I rehearsed as soon as I stepped up to the podium. I even had a dream that I got booed and Sandman from the Apollo Theater removed me from the podium with his infamous cane! My heart was racing all the way up to the beginning of our presentation, but luckily, all of the preparation paid off!
The presentation was to last only 20 minutes, but it felt so much shorter than that, especially after I became more comfortable with standing in front of the room. I was able to develop a sense of confidence and reassurance that I really did have the skills necessary to not only present research, but to also answer questions from the audience. Something that I feared became something that I enjoyed. Instead of experiencing anxiety, I felt exhilaration. The girl who used to stutter and trip over her words even when asking a question in class was now co-presenting first-year outcomes for a multisite mental health project at a national conference. Let’s just say, practice makes perfect and I’m excited to hone my public speaking skills even more!
I really don’t have time for this.
That’s what I’ve been thinking pretty much every day for the past two weeks. “I don’t have time” to walk the dog. “I don‘t have time” to sit quietly with my partner. “I don’t have time” to call my parents. It is mid-semester, and with all of the assignments now coming due and no more hours in the day–well, except for that one last Sunday–I am in a constant state of just getting by with all of my school, professional, and personal commitments. This deep in the weeds, it seems like time is not on my side.
But here is the truth: I do have time. I have all of the time in the world for the things that I prioritize. Rather than whining about a shortage of time, I should be reminding myself that for the moment I am not prioritizing the dog walk, the quiet time, the call home, or the thank you note. Instead, I am temporarily prioritizing my school work. This is fine. For now.
Every now and then things will get a little out of whack, but we really must remain mindful of our priorities. Pretty soon, the papers will be written, the group work will be complete. The question is, after the mid-semester push, will we return to the things that really matter to us? Will we consciously decide to prioritize our families, our hobbies, and the things that make us feel whole?
We should. I should. Starting now. It’s time to walk the dog.
Being an MSW student at UNC opens the door for so many different opportunities. Because social work exists in so many settings and so many roles, it can almost be overwhelming to find your niche.
On the first day of orientation last year, I remember the Social Work Coordinators from SHAC (Student Health Action Coalition) coming to speak and recruiting volunteers. Having heard about SHAC from other students, I signed up to volunteer a few nights during my first fall semester. In the spring, I signed up for more volunteer shifts and applied and was selected to be a Social Work Coordinator for this year. In the big wide field of social work, I had found my thing (or at least one of them).
SHAC is the oldest student-run free medical clinic in the country. Dating back to the late 1960s, students from social work, medicine, dentistry, nursing, public health, and physical therapy have all contributed to make SHAC a thriving community health center for the uninsured and underinsured.
Social work students at SHAC do a brief biopsychosocial assessment with each patient, using direct practice skills, and then provide appropriate resources. Social work volunteers provide community resources and education on a number of topics, including the Affordable Care Act, SNAP (food stamps), mental health resources in the area, employment and educational opportunities, women’s health, and so much more. Working with patients from underserved groups provides value and service to the community and enhances the social work student’s educational experience.
I encourage anyone who is considering the UNC School of Social Work to think more about what ways they want to be involved in the community while they are students. My nights at SHAC have been one of the most rewarding parts of my MSW education.