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!
Your specialization year is really different from your generalist year. Let me break it down for you like a fraction:
1/3) Instead of spending two days in field, you spend three.
2/3) You have a lot more say-so in your placement.
3/3) It feels like a real job – except the collecting a paycheck part 😉
(Yes, I know they’re technically all 1/3. I’m adding them together – I never was a math person)
I was excited but nervous to spend so much time in field…what if I didn’t like it? What if I didn’t gel with my field instructor? And on and on the ruminating went.
Guess what: I love my field placement. I love my field instructor. I love the work I get to do. I love being around undergraduates. I feel like I am exactly where I need to be.
When you’re in field three days a week, you get to know the organizational culture better, you become invested in your placement in deeper ways, and if you’re like me – you want to participate in events on days besides the typical 9-5 workday.
Being at this field placement has reminded me what passion and purpose are and how those two things are a driving force in life. When you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you feel inspired every day by the people around you, you look for opportunities to sit at the feet of others and learn, you find your voice again…I didn’t even know that part of me was missing until I started working at Campus Y. So for those of you reading this blog – at the risk of sounding corny – I encourage you to think back to a time when you felt inspired, and look for work that makes you feel that way. The type of place you want to go when you don’t have to (and yes, everyone needs boundaries and down time, I’m just saying). Every place has its politics, its pros and deltas, but – and here’s my last Disney-esque saying – when you know it’s right, you’ll work through the rest. Good luck finding something that’s more than just a 9 to 5 – there’s nothing like it.
Healthcare in general is a relatively new field for me. I was first introduced to medical social work in my time here at the School of Social Work through volunteering at SHAC (Student Health Action Coalition) clinic and have found the work both rewarding and crucial to the communities in which I’ve worked. Given the changes in health care reform, the idea of integrated health is imperative to navigating the complexities between behavioral health and physical illness.
UNC School of Social Work offers a unique opportunity and scholarship to participate in social work in a primary care setting. Students can apply for the PrimeCare program around January of their foundation year (or January of their 2nd year for DE students). As a part of the program, students receive a $10,000 scholarship to conduct their concentration field year in a primary care setting. In addition to the financial support, the program provides a number of professional development opportunities including seminars and conference registrations.
Last Friday, PrimeCare students had the opportunity to participate in NASW’s (National Association of Social Worker’s) day long conference on Integrated Health. Presenters discussed the role of Social Work, more effective reimbursement policies, and the upcoming changes to Medicaid in North Carolina.
UNC SSW just received notice recently that they’re received a new round of PrimeCare funding to cover the next 4 school years! Visit the PrimeCare website for more details.
As fall quickly approaches, those of you looking to apply to UNC’s School of Social Work have a little more than 4 months (5 if you are Distance Education) to submit your application! But not to worry, as long as you plan ahead for those lengthy essays, GRE tests, and letters of recommendations. Because you are asking someone else to take part in your application, it is a good idea to start asking potential references as early as possible if they will write a letter on your behalf. Below are some tips on how to select a viable reference and what you should do to help them along in the process.
Selecting a Reference
- Choose someone who knows you well but isn’t related to you
- You want the reference to be able to speak on behalf of your work ethic and experience, your academic performance, as well as your general personality.
- Think outside the realm of work supervisors (although you would want to include them as one of your references). For example, I asked a woman with whom I shared an office, but who I didn’t work with directly. She was able to explain my work style, how I interacted with people, and protected self-efficacy and self-determination.
- Meet with your potential reference directly and explain what your goals are and where you are coming from.
- You need at least three references for your application.
- Know that you are awesome and that there are plenty of good things people want to say about you. People want to see you succeed.
Things to do to help your reference
- Share your application materials with your references, so they can get a baseline of what the School of Social Work (SSW) is looking for.
- SSW provides guidelines for references. They can be found here. Make sure your reference has a copy of this BEFORE they start writing their letter.
- Provide your references with a current resume so they are aware of what you have been up to or learn about other things you are involved in.
- GIVE THEM PLENTY OF TIME TO WRITE THE LETTER. I’m talking like two months. Make sure your references are aware of any deadlines they need to adhere to.
- Don’t freak out if your references ask you to draft a version of the recommendation letter. Usually this is to make sure you are both on the same page and makes it a little easier for a busy reference.
- Inform the references of the process once your application is submitted:
- The reference’s contact information will be listed on the application
- Once the application is submitted, the reference will receive an email with a link to submit the letter.
- Hopefully, by the time you submit your application, your references has been given enough time to prepare, so all they have to do is upload the letter. This will significantly lower your stress level knowing that the letter has been submitted
- Follow-up with references if they haven’t submitted the letter a week after you submitted the application. A gentle reminder goes a long way
- Once you see that the letter has been submitted send a THANK YOU email or letter to your references.
- Keep them updated with progress-where you were accepted and where you decided to enroll.
Basically, it’s never to early to start asking potential references if they will write you a letter of recommendation for graduate school. They will appreciate you for respecting their time. And it will help you have to think of one less thing when crunch time rolls around to submit your application. GOOD LUCK!
Here’s a picture of me with one of my references at my going-away party before I started graduate school:
My first year at the UNC School of Social Work provided one of the most formative moments in my professional and personal development. I am still in awe that it happened! I was able to rediscover my passion for class discussions and I formed friendships with classmates and faculty that I truly believe will be long lasting.
However, a key moment of discovery during my first year as a graduate student would be the realization that I am not going to school in a vacuum: the political climate and new administration was directly impacting my country, my state, my community, my loved ones, and my learning. As a Latino student and Tri-Chairperson of the UNC School of Social Work (SSW) Latinx Caucus, it was difficult to not walk into my classes without thinking about the fears and concerns of many immigrant and undocumented individuals – especially when those individuals could very well be my friends, my family, and my classmates.
With that, my involvement with the UNC SSW Latinx Caucus provided me space to process these feelings and thoughts. Looking back, I am so grateful that the SSW provides student-lead caucuses as outlets for addressing currently social issues. The 3 main objectives of the caucus are to:
- Provide a safe space where Latinx* students can voice their experiences and concerns within the School of Social Work.
- Create learning opportunities for non-Latinx and Latnix students to broaden their understanding of diversity within the Latinx culture and issues that affect the Latinx community.
- Engage with the wider UNC community to advocate for Latinx student needs.
*Latinx (pronounced “La-TEEN-ex”) is a gender-inclusive way of referring to people of Latin American descent that moves beyond the gender binaries.
One memorable event that was organized by the Latinx Caucus in Spring 2017 was an Immigration Teach-In for social work students, faculty, and community members. This event was created in response to the political climate impacting the Latinx and immigrant communities and the importance of bringing greater awareness to Latinx issues in our academic community.
Feedback from participants at the teach-in affirmed that there is great interest in knowing more about the following topics impacting the Latinx community: the intersectionality of the Latinx LGBTQI+ experience, North Carolina policies impacting immigrant and undocumented communities, cultural humility in practice, Latinx mental health, policies on the phasing-out of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, and examples of advocacy as an ally. Needless to say, there was a variety of interest and I am grateful for my colleagues and faculty who push for these topics to be seen. A summary of the teach-in is as followed:
I am still learning how to best use my voice to bring attention to issues impacting the Latinx community. Personally, most of that learning has comes from seeing my incredible classmates in action. Efforts ranging from organizing students to call and pressure their state representatives, to non-compliance in the face of a grand jury, to choosing to be vulnerable by sharing narratives of hardship and pain in class.
I am excited for this new year and to see the Latinx Caucus continue to grow and create a space where Latinx voices are elevated. I have a lot more to learn. And a lot more work needs to be done, but that is the responsibility that I chose to take on, and will continue to honor, as a social work professional.
DACA: Frequently Asked Questions and Updates
Frequently Asked Questions on the Rescission of DACA, Department of Homeland https://www.dhs.gov/news/2017/09/05/frequently-asked-questions-rescission-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-daca
DACA Update: Five Things You Should Know,
Fact sheet from the National Immigration Law Center and United We Dream
What’s Next for DACA, NC Justice Center Fact Sheet
Here to Stay Resources (Frequently Ask Questions; Workplace Rights After DACA)
DACA Updates, NC Justice Center
Video About DACA by ACLU of NC and NC Justice Center
Resources for Educators
Resources for Educators Supporting Dreamers
United We Dream #HereToStay Toolkit for Educators https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o-zD9Yy-oJboGOtWkBD3E8bz3DhEPPikOBBzYOOXSdU/edit
What Educators Need to know https://cecr.ed.psu.edu/immigration-new-administration-what-educators-need-know
This semester I decided to try something new! I am taking a class OUTSIDE of the school of social work! That’s right, I had to find a new building on campus (both an exciting and nerve-wracking experience.) My field placement this year is at a Duke medical clinic and since I am interested in working in health care, many wise faculty members suggested I take a class in the medical world. As a result, I found myself signing up for a nursing class called “Population Health; an Interdisciplinary Experience.” And let me tell you, this is currently my favorite class.
The class meets on Tuesday nights (before you say anything, they feed us dinner!) And it is an interdisciplinary class which means that there are students from dental, speech, medical, physician’s assistant (PA), social work, occupational therapy (OT), nursing, and pharmacy schools! As you can imagine it is a huge class so we are all broken up into groups containing one member of each discipline. Each class we are given a case study and are asked to highlight what our profession would prioritize, and then we discuss what course of action would be best for the patient.
For a social worker hoping to work in health care, this class is modeling the ideal medical setting in which the patient is really the focus and there are multiple disciplines looking holistically at the patient. Hopefully this will be the direction that health care systems are moving toward but this class gives me hope and as I’m sure you can tell, I’m super excited!
Interdisciplinary medicine is the model of the future and I can tell you from experience, working together is awesome!!
There are two words that no student is ever too old to get excited over, those words are: “FIELD TRIP!”
I can clearly recall the day I reviewed the syllabus for the course Confronting Oppression and Institution Discrimination, at the start of my first-year spring semester. The words “field trip” were listed and I instantly became excited. I haven’t been on a field trip in—well let’s just say it’s been a long time! 😊
The course content was one of the richest courses that I’ve ever taken in my life. The semester felt almost like a journey instead of a course. It was amazing to experience this journey with my cohort; it was only our 2nd semester of knowing each other but we truly grew together as we transparently learned about our own unintentional bias, and became more aware of oppression and microaggressions that surround us daily. We learned a variety of practical ways to advocate and how to confront oppression. The course provided a safe place to ask honest questions and address misconceptions of a variety of oppressed populations. The course was a combination of relevant readings, impactful guest speakers, powerful lectures, respectful class discussions, and *drum roll* a field trip!
Our field trip was to the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in downtown Greensboro, NC. I live in Greensboro, so I’d visited this museum many times before. However, this visit was like none other. Experiencing the guided tour with my cohorts, sharing emotions, seeing the compassionate reactive tears of my cohort, and having the opportunity to debrief together afterwards was simply amazing. It was an experience that many of us reference even today. While the field trip didn’t consist of a cool big yellow bus, it was truly a remarkable experience and great way to supplement our coursework.
As an out of state student that was starting all over this summer in a new city, with little to no connections or knowledge of the area, I felt like I had to start over. I had come from a small undergraduate university where I had great mentors, strong connections with faculty, and knowledge of other students at my school that I could use as resources for whatever I needed. I really understood my community and the resources within it. But when I moved to Raleigh, NC to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, I had to start all over. I had to learn about a new state, a new city, and a new Triangle area. I had no relationships with faculty members, and had to learn what office to go for a various concerns. While the UNC staff and faculty are some of the kindest and most helpful professionals you will ever meet, this was a challenge. I began to realize that if I was really going to thrive as a student and as a social worker, I would have to start making connections, reaching out, and learning more from those around me, aka, NETWORK!
Why build a network?
Throughout life there will always be times when we have to “start over” somewhere new, either in a new agency, a new state, or even a new country. But, one of the things that will help people as they do this is to quickly establish a network of professionals, mentors, connections, and friends that will help them learn and succeed. When beginning in a new setting, it is essential to build a network, specifically for social work, because this will help you know your community better, and therefore offer the best service possible to your clients. When you build a network, you hear about opportunities and resources you maybe weren’t aware of, and you have connections to other areas that may benefit your clients. Have a friend that’s a doctor? They may know about a pop-up free health clinic because they volunteer there. Have a friend that works in the school system? They may be able to help you understand what support the client you are seeing in therapy can get through the school system. This network will not only benefit you during job searching and other times, it also helps you do your job.
Who should you include in your network?
Really, you can include anyone. The beneficial part about being at this point in our lives is that even members of your cohort are great networking opportunities! I learned just as much from my colleagues who have worked in various agencies and parts of social work as I did from my professors. Your colleagues may also be able to connect you to their field supervisors, which will give you access to a whole other professional network! And of course, the School of Social Work faculty members also have a wealth of knowledge regarding what research their colleagues are doing in other schools, or what new initiative is starting in the community.
How do you build a network?
Easy, you start to talk to people! Over the summer bridge program for the Advanced Standing program, I learned about so many things that were going on in the school, from research, to volunteer opportunities, and so on. By participating in classes, going to office hours, or even just searching the schools website. It never hurts to reach out to a guest speaker you may have had in class, or to send an email to a professor you maybe have never had just expressing your desire to learn and get involved in any way possible. Professional organizations like NASW are a great place to start as well! Your graduate program will fly by quickly; don’t miss out on any opportunity to learn just because you were afraid to ask! Be proactive, advocate for yourself, and always be willing to strike up a conversation.