Welcome to the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work Student Ambassador Blog! This blog was created by current student Ambassadors 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!
Field education constantly tests your limits, stretches your skills, and puts you in settings where you can learn about yourself as well as about how different agencies work. One of the biggest projects I completed this semester at my field placement was a report about EPSDT (a child Medicaid benefit) and how it can be used to address social determinants of health and ultimately improve child health priorities. The research was manageable. The writing came naturally, and I learned a lot about EPSDT and how it is working in North Carolina.
The one thing I was not entirely prepared for was the shifting responsibilities of the project. At the start, it was set up to be a joint project with two authors. As time progressed, the other author became engulfed in other priorities and grant deliverables. This, of course, is understandable. However, the shift of roles and expectations was never clearly discussed and the project ended up taking a lot longer than anticipated.
I learned that it is critical to notice when communication is lacking. When the project was completed, I realized that I should have taken responsibility for the communication early on; but I was not in that mindset because I thought, “I’m the intern, staff members will take care of this.” As I learned, this is not always the case. In field, we must learn to advocate for ourselves. This is not an easy task, especially when we are in a position without much perceived or real power. Know your worth. Speak up when you need something or when you think things are not going as planned. Effective communication is something we talk a lot about in social work. In practice, it can be harder to define.
Although the experience was frustrating, at the end of it all I am proud of the work I was able to complete. Also, I plan to propose a set process for joint projects so that it can go more smoothly in the future.
If you are interested in reading the report it can be found here.
With just a few more weeks until the end of spring semester I am filled with torn emotions; relieved to have “survived” another semester, but also saddened that the journey with my Winston-Salem Distance Education cohort will soon come to an end. From our start of the program we had all our classes together; we have learned, laughed, and even cried together within the past two years. Without force we have a unique bond and are a true support system for each other.
While the thought of our cohort no longer meeting together on Fridays from 9a-5p saddens me, it also brings forth a sense of excitement. We have completed all our core courses together and will begin taking elective courses on UNC Chapel Hill’s campus. This will provide us each with individualized paths to reach our goals and to network with other future social work practitioners alike. Because we will be on campus it will be much easier to regularly take advantage of the workshops that UNC School of Social Work offers and become involved in other campus activities.
Last Friday during a break between classes many of us shared our future class schedules, we discovered that most of us have at least one or two members of our cohort in each class. We have even developed a car pool system already. While change is always hard, I am excited that we will shortly be on the path to our final year of the program and am confident that we will always carry the experiences that we had together in our hearts.
It’s that time of year! The time of the year where the final year students are so close to the finish line, and everyone wants to know what comes next. Some of my colleagues are already hired, some are completing interviews, and some are taking a much needed break for the summer and will be applying later. Either way, we’ve got a bright and talented cohort that are getting phenomenal jobs all over the US.
Many people want to know how UNC supports students in the job searching process, so I wanted to summarize some of the ways that the UNC School of Social Work helps their students prepare for the job hunt!
- Professional development sessions: Each semester our wonderful staff organize very relevant professional development sessions that take place in the school on topics from job searching tips, to interview prep, to networking nights, and negotiating salary. They also even had an NASW resume review! All these events that I have attended were very helpful, and there are often recordings/streams and handouts available for those who aren’t able to attend.
- References: The field instructors, staff, and professors are all more than willing to write references for students or help students connect to various agencies. Don’t forget to take advantage of these great resources, as they have wonderful networks if you take the time to ask!
- The Career Fair: This past Monday the School of Social Work hosted the annual career fair for UNC Social Work students. All five floors of the School of Social Work were full of a diverse group of agencies looking for potential new hires, from multiple cities across North Carolina. I was able to speak to several employers that I had put job applications in with, and make meaningful, in person connections that I’m hoping will pay off. I was so glad I attended this chance for easy networking experience in my backyard, and I even got a free headshot taken by the school afterwards!
There are several resources available to students through the school, and I believe that all of these services have helped me feel better prepared for the job search, interview, and hiring process. Beyond the school, we also have access to the graduate school resources, as well as the UNC Career Services. I had my first job interview this past week, and am hopeful to find the job that is right for me. The unknown with the job search process has been a little overwhelming and requires a great amount of patience, but come May 12th, it will all be worth it!
This week I’ve had the opportunity to visit two beautiful gardens that are managed by UNC – the Coker Arboretum and the NC Botanical Gardens. While anybody would say that it has been a wild winter, weather-wise, here in North Carolina, there were still several flowering plants starting to bloom in both gardens. The Coker Arboretum is an amazing oasis on campus. It is right in the middle of the undergraduate campus and features many beautiful flower beds, a stream, green spaces, and benches to sit on and enjoy the scenery. The feature is an archway that is covered in vines that bloom beautiful yellow flowers in the spring and summer. This is a popular spot for photos on campus. I was just there this week having engagement photos taken! I wanted to make sure that we got photos that captured our time here in NC and featured the beautiful UNC campus.
The NC Botanical Gardens are located off campus (though there is a walking path that folks can take to walk from the campus to the botanical gardens). One of my favorite parts of the botanical gardens is the carnivorous plants exhibit. UNC-Chapel Hill has a partnership with UNC-Greensboro to develop new and interesting varieties of carnivorous plants, to curtail illegal selling of these endangered species. The exhibit in the NC Botanical Garden features more variations of carnivorous pitcher plants than I ever imagined could exist and has fascinating informational plaques about these rare plants. The garden also has a section of coastal plains plants. Each year the garden facilitates controlled fires in sections of this habitat to simulate what happens in wild settings.
The Coker Arboretum and the NC Botanical Gardens are beautiful facilities that are free to visit. They represent just a couple of the wonderful opportunities students can take advantage of while attending school here at UNC. I am so thrilled that I had the opportunity to spend time in these beautiful settings, and I highly recommend others visit as well during their time at UNC.
In March of 2016, I let out a giant sigh of relief. I’d chosen to attend UNC and I could stop worrying about applications and deadlines. However, almost immediately afterward, I discovered I had a new worry! Where was I going to live?!? I was out of state and working a full-time job, so my housing search was going to have to be remote. Luckily I found a great place with great roommates and I have outlined a few tips so you can too.
Where do you want to live?
UNC MSW students live all over the triangle. The first thing to do is to settle on a location. Durham and Raleigh are great choices for students who like all of the amenities the two bigger cities have to offer. When looking at living in these cities though, be sure to look at the commuting options and figure out how to get to campus (https://move.unc.edu/cap/commute-options/). Other students choose to live in Chapel Hill or Carrboro because of their proximity to campus and their college or small town feel. When visiting UNC to attend an information session, I fell in love with Carrboro. It had all of the benefits of being close to UNC, without feeling too much like a college town. I loved the possibility of being able to walk downtown to the restaurants or shops and participate in all of the great activities the town planned.
Who do you want to live with?
Do you want to live alone or with roommates? Coming in from out of state and knowing no one, I decided to live with roommates to get to know some people. It was also cost-effective and, being on the grad school budget, I didn’t want to pay too much for rent. I won’t lie and say that I don’t sometimes wish I lived on my own (especially when the dirty dishes are piling up or someone wakes me up in the morning), but overall, my roommates have been great!
What are your must-haves?
For me, transportation was pretty important. I had a car and didn’t want to have to pay for parking. I also wanted somewhere close to a bus stop so I did not have to deal with a long commute. Lastly, I wanted to live close to downtown so I wouldn’t have to get in a car every time I wanted to do something. Make a list for yourself of things you really want in a housing situation or roommates so you can be sure to find a place that’s great for you.
Doing the Search
The student guide outlines a number of great resources for your housing search (see page 8 https://ssw.unc.edu/files/web/pdf/new_student_guide_2018.pdf). It’s a good idea to get started sooner rather than later as a lot of graduating students are looking to fill their leasing spots in May and June. I used the roommate finder on Heels Housing to find my current roommates. To access it, you create an account using your unc email address, fill out a short survey about yourself (cleanliness, pet preferences etc.) and then can look at other profiles. Because I was out of state, I did a lot of Skype calls with people until I found the right group. It was a little tricky because I had to trust them to pick the house without ever seeing it, but they kept me in the loop with pictures and updates.
The housing search might seem daunting at first, but there are a lot of great options in the area! Before you know it, you’ll have your new Carolina home and be ready to start classes.
If you are from North Carolina and into basketball, you can usually ask one question that sparks a conversation. And that question is “Duke or Carolina?” Then one of these three things happens:
- You end up talking to a person that cheers for the same school as you.
- You meet a rival and the “trash talk” begins.
- Or you meet a random NC State fan.
I was raised to be a Tar Heel fan thanks to my Dad! I’ve watched the Tar Heels play basketball games on television for years but don’t remember fully understanding the game until I started playing myself around the age of nine. The Duke vs. UNC game is one of the most talked about rivalries in college basketball. I’m usually out watching the game or at home yelling at the TV. But this year, I had the opportunity to sit in the student section and watch the Tar Heels take down those blue devils along with my classmates. And it’s an experience I will never forget!
There was some driving involved to get to this game. I left my internship in Greensboro, to attend the game in Chapel Hill and once the game was over I drove back so that I could be present and ready to engage with clients the following day. My motto is “self-care is the best care” and I was excited about having a social night. But planning and prioritizing are important to me. I knew that I would not get any work done the night of the game so I worked ahead during the beginning of the week.
What I experienced at that game was indescribable. The level of Tar Heel pride is unmatched! I’ve attended several basketball games but the energy that I felt during that game was a indescribable. I paid attention to the entire game but I walked away feeling like I missed so much due to the excitement, screams, cheers, laughs, and anxiety provoking moments. The Tar Heels came out on top and I had an amazing time celebrating with future social workers!
One question I hear from students thinking about enrolling into a social work program (*cough, cough* the question that I was asking and sometimes am still seeking answers to) is this: If you choose the Macro social work track, can you still do direct-practice/clinical work? (or viscera)
I am currently a dual degree student in the MSW/MPH program on the macro social work track (aka the Community Management and Practice Concentration). My courses, especially those in public health, focus on a system approach and population-based perspective to addressing adverse health outcomes and social inequalities. I am a firm believe in working on ways to prevent conditions that perpetuate health disparities among the undeserved and historically oppressed.
AND, I also aspire to be a clinical social worker at the end of the (long) day – to be a therapist for immigrant adolescents/families who have experienced trauma.
For me, the clinical- and macro-work are inseparable. As a future public health social worker, I want to be committed to efforts that develop and implement trauma-informed approaches across systems and workplaces – for the users and providers of programs/interventions/services. The macro AND micro are integrative and can work together. To alleviate human suffering and disrupt the systems and conditions perpetuating that suffering.
Throughout my time in my dual MSW/MPH program, I have been very intentional about taking direct-practice courses as my electives (e.g. Adolescent and Child Mental Health, Differential Diagnosis, and Working with Groups). Additionally, I am a research assistant on a project focusing on LGBTQ mental health among young adults, while also working part-time on how services are accessible to Spanish-speaking older adults in the county. While all this requires a bit of mental gymnastics from talking about diagnostic criteria in the DSM and the development consequences of trauma, to program development and stakeholder engagement, I enjoy learning to zoom-in and zoom-out when addressing an issue and realizing how everything is connected under the same lens.
I will acknowledge that I might be over ambitious and that I still have some ways to go in order to figure out how to integrate the clinical and macro work in my professional career as a unified specialty – but it is a balancing act I am willing and excited to learn. It is possible. There are professionals out there making it happen. And I have to remind myself to trust the process, ask for advice from those doing this type of work that I care about, and not to limit the possibilities of what I think I can do in the future as a public health (clinical) social worker.