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!
I had the privilege of traveling to Columbia, NC, Tyrrell County with another young lady from my cohort, 17 graduate students from different disciplines, and four staff. I saw this Inter-professional Service Learning with Vulnerable Populations course as an opportunity to do something different while interacting with physical therapy, public health, and nursing students. Although the trip did not take place until the week of spring break, a lot of preparation went into place prior to leaving. We, the students, were split into different teams and committees to plan the entire trip, with guidance from the staff. We had the opportunity to work within the elementary, middle, and high schools, collaborate with the local food bank, partner with community members to build a garden, and go on home visits for the elderly population.
The highlight of the trip was during the last night in the cabin when majority of the students felt like there was a possibility that we could have impacted and partnered with more people. We began to process about the strengths and enjoyable moments while focusing on areas of planning that could be improved. The graduate students from other disciplines really took into consideration the feedback from the two social work students. They felt that our perspective was eye opening and that our suggestions could be very useful in the future.
I wish I could go into full details about the trip, but then this blog would quickly turn into the length of a well-written research paper. This trip demonstrated how valuable the field of social work is and the positive impact that takes place when professionals from different disciplines work together.
If you ever want to spend your spring break learning, networking, and using your social work skills, you should consider this service trip!
No matter where you are in your social work journey…still in the application process, getting ready to graduate from undergrad, a first year student, second year student, or final year student…self-care is likely applicable to you at some point. I constantly find myself going back to the “self-care mantra.” It is truly key when navigating difficult times. Whether it is due to school and family stressors, or triggers that arise in field and the workplace, self-care is critical to one’s overall health and well-being. Both as a student and now as a budding clinician, I am finding that maintaining a self-care routine is imperative in order to maintain my physical and mental health.
For the past few months, I have found self-care to be EVEN MORE crucial for my survival in the MSW program. When things like resume building, entering a new job search, and finishing course work start impacting your everyday life (on top of the typical/usual stressors), the anxiety can be overwhelming. For me, I try to keep things in perspective that we are people first and social workers/students second. Our professors remind us that “life happens” and that is very much so true. How can we expect our clients and patients to adhere to our words if we are not following through with them ourselves? We must take care of ourselves in order to help our clients. It is important to remember to address our personal lives…family, friends, partners, and any crises that arise in that arena…before we can address our professional lives. Maintaining a self-care regimen will not only help us remain healthy physically and mentally, but also help us provide stability and show up as our best selves for the people we serve.
With graduation just around the corner, it is pleasant to look back on the past few years and realize just how much knowledge and skill-building has occurred. Over this time, it has been possible to become proficient in diagnosing, conceptualizing, and formulating cases, and I have obtained valuable experience with a variety of treatment modalities and therapeutic approaches. It has been a great help to have entered the program knowing that my end goal was to become a clinical social worker with a specialization in serving children, adolescents, and families. That way I was able to tailor the last few years to make sure that I took advantage of opportunities to engage in learning that was relevant to this personal and professional goal.
My foundation year field placement at a psychiatric residential treatment facility provided crucial experience in working with children, adolescents, and families in both acute/crisis and residential care. This fast-paced environment allowed me to work with psychiatrists, psychologists, and other therapists as part of an interdisciplinary treatment team, facilitating not only individual and group therapy, but also family sessions, intakes and assessments, as well as coordinating continuation of care and discharge planning. During my concentration year, I was able to build on this foundation at the Child and Adolescent Outpatient Program within the UNC Department of Psychiatry. There, fellow trainees and psychiatry fellows engaged in thoughtful and thorough diagnostic processes and provided outpatient psychotherapy, play therapy, and supportive therapy to children and their parents/caretakers. Thanks to supervision provided by both a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Psychology PhD, as well as working in collaboration with psychiatrists, psychologists, and other social workers at program-wide case conferences and at the medication management-focused behavior clinic, it has been possible to become a much more experienced, competent, and capable clinician.
As we close in on graduation day, I find myself excited about the opportunity to both apply all that I have learned so far and to continue to grow even more. I look forward to joining a profession in which I’ll be able to continue to develop personally and professionally and the years will add up to more relevant knowledge and wisdom.
Last Wednesday, March 1st, I was fortunate enough to attend the NC-NASW’s Advocacy Day. Every other year NC-NASW puts together a day for Social Work professionals to learn about the biggest issues of concern in North Carolina legislature and are given the tools to set up meetings with their representatives to discuss how these issues affect practices and people in the field.
I have met with legislatures before when I was living in western North Carolina, but I had never done advocacy work on an individual basis. Since I knew I would be scheduling appointments with my representatives on my own, I was grateful for the talking point worksheets and resources that the Advocacy Day provided. It was also great to be surrounded by peers and faculty from the UNC School of Social Work. One of the most compelling components of the morning session were the speeches made by Gene Nichol of UNC School of Law and Graig Meyer, NC Representative of House District 50 (You can see Graig Meyer’s speech on his Facebook page.
It is important for social work students and professionals to advocate at the legislative level whenever possible. This is not just the work for macro social workers, but those involved in direct practice too. Our profession lends the privilege of providing a voice for populations who’s voices are not often given an opportunity to be raised. Additionally, it is in our Code of Ethics to take social action that benefits our client populations.
I am grateful for the opportunity to have practiced face-to-face advocacy and will continue to hold myself accountable in my professional and personal life to meet with representatives whenever possible.
Four of us from the 2018 Distance Education MSW cohort :).
I am grateful for a graduate school program that focuses on both intellectual and academic growth as well as action and practice. For example, my Health Disparities Policy professor decided to count participation in Social Work Advocacy Day as a substitute for a class presentation. She boldly prioritized political action and encouraged us to embody what we talk about in the comfort of the classroom.
And so, tomorrow I will join hundreds of my fellow social workers for the bi-annual Social Work Advocacy Day in Raleigh! I will attend a morning training and then meet with numerous legislators – both state senators and representatives – to voice my thoughts and opinions on important state policy issues. I will use my professional privilege as a social worker to advocate for those who have been marginalized. I will advocate for change and raise awareness of issues that matter to me. I will speak directly with those who vote on state-wide matters.
This is both scary and exciting. I have never met with legislators before, let alone shared my humble opinions with them. It seems like such a bold, unique opportunity…and while it may be in some ways, it also is quite ordinary.
What I mean is, these are leaders who represent and work for us. Not only do we have the right and responsibility to meet with them and share our thoughts, but our legislators welcome it! They make time for it. This forced me to remember that not only are these leaders important, but so are we. So in the spirit of Social Work Advocacy Day, let’s recognize the boldness of our own voice. And let’s not be afraid to use it!
For February being the coldest month of the year, this certainly has been a mild one. I look look at the early-blossoming flowering trees, and I can only think of what a beautiful place is Chapel Hill. Springtime is showing us its first palette of colors under a blue sky, and I suddenly become aware of the charm surrounding me. I will miss this place, but I have enjoyed it as much as I can. The walks between school buildings, reading under the shade of flowering trees, coffee dates with friends, group projects in a sunny day, and admiring the stars in the night after evening classes.
As you dear reader prepare to apply, enroll or start the MSW program, know that there is much to see and learn outside Tate-Turner-Kuralt building’s walls. Yes, be prepared for a packed schedule with a plethora of assignments that will keep you undeniably busy, but do not miss the beauty of each season in this place. Take your computer, your readings, the notebooks, your pencil case, your lunch, the headphones, the umbrella, and even another fellow social worker and explore the world outside the School of Social Work. Take more walks, cross more streets, breathe the clean air, find new spots to study outside, and even take a power nap – no one will judge. I have loved the hot days and the cold ones, the rainy afternoons, and the starry nights. Don’t miss it. Admiring, enjoying and delighting in the nature surrounding us are part of the graduate studies experience. And it will certainly contribute to practicing self-care, a term that you will become very acquainted with! So prepare yourself to grow in knowledge and skills, but also prepare yourself to be enchanted by the beauty outside TTK’s walls.
In my “Implementing Evidence-Informed Practice” course, we were assigned readings pertaining to mindfulness and acceptance. The timing seemed perfect seeing that I just participated in a ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) conference in Charlotte through my field placement. The professor for this course collaborated with us (the students) and planned a field trip. We spent the class time at The Children’s Home, in Winston-Salem, and we were able to have class in their grass area near their farm. It was the perfect day and weather to intentionally practice mindfulness exercises. We engaged in partner activities, group activities, and discussed readings. I’m sure it will be a class that I won’t forget.
The term mindfulness has stuck with me since I started reading about it this semester. Society teaches us to move at such a fast pace and look forward to the future, that we often forget to be mindful of what’s going on in the moment. And on the reverse side, sometimes we get caught up in past experiences or mistakes. While participating in mindful activities that day, I intentionally focused on how the wind felt against my cheeks, how the sun rays gleamed on the left side of my face, and how the grass crunched under my feet as I walked. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Mindfulness is spoken about more and more within our profession and I feel that it is essential that we take part in it as growing professionals.
So pace yourself! It is okay to make mistakes and feel emotional at times. We are human and feelings are apart of our identity. Embrace yourself, your mistakes, positive and negative feelings…and every now and then…pause to be mindful in the moment!