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!
Social work experiences and life have taught me that no one has this “thing” figured out. When I say “thing” I am referring to life. A few things come to mind when I think of life and daily experiences. I will list them below:
1. There is not always a correct answer. What works for you, may not work for me. Route A may be perfect for one family while another family prefers route C. Sometimes situations are complex which could mean that there are multiple answers to the issue or situation.
2. Experiences shape our perspective and outlook on life. Experiences in graduate school have increased my self-awareness. I am able to articulate what I like, don’t like, and expect to gain when describing my dream social work position. It’s okay to try a new experience, even if it’s scary or uncomfortable at first.
3. Not having it all figured is okay…because you’re not alone. I have encountered several career driven adults that have changed jobs, positions/titles, and interest until they figured out what works for them. Even if a certain place or position feels “right” momentarily, at least you can say that you tried it.
4. Don’t be afraid to feel uncomfortable. For me, stepping outside of my comfort zone increases my anxiety. I am approaching the end of this MSW program and I can see tons of personal and professional growth in myself and I truly believe that it is because I learned how to embrace feeling uncomfortable. I am grateful that both of my field placements were different (one working with older adults with a memory loss and the other in integrated healthcare in a pediatric clinic). The process of learning how to excel as a MSW Intern in these two placements taught me that it is possible to be successful in the unknown.
5. Last but not least, perspectives are always different. For example: two of my clients can be going through very similar situations but have two different responses, attitudes, and perspectives. I try to keep this in mind when working with other professionals. What I prioritize as important and on the top of my list, my colleague may not. This creates an opportunity for conversation if each party commits to trying to understand the other.
While typing this I flashback to being in my kindergarten classroom and my teacher having us repeat the famous proverb “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again!” At that age I was not expected to have life all figured out and at this moment in life I have those same expectations for myself. I have a plan in place, goals written down, and mentors to verbally process with. But I also know that one mistake will not keep me down and life, with all of it’s experiences, will continue to mold and shape me after graduate school.
Our most recent winter storm reminded me of the first time I faced North Carolina in the snow. I was back in Maryland for a visit when a snow storm hit the east coast and dusted the region with 3-4 inches. After waiting a day or two for the plows to clear the roads, I headed home. Well I could tell the second I crossed the North Carolina boarder. The roads were ice! After a very stressful two-hour ice skate/drive, I made it home and there I remained for the next couple of days until the ice melted enough for me to get out of my neighborhood. Lesson learned- don’t mess with North Carolina in the snow.
When the roads aren’t covered in snow, UNC Social Work students have many different options for getting around. Chapel Hill Transit is a free bus route that covers most of Chapel Hill and Carrboro. Parking on campus is expensive and often not centrally located, so I take the bus when I have class. A lot of folks who live nearby also bike or walk. There are plenty of bike racks and students who register their bikes with UNC’s Department of Transportation and Parking can get 50% off a U-lock and help finding their bike if it ever gets lost or stolen. For those who don’t live locally, there are several park and ride locations that require permits. Students who take the GoTriangle, PART or Pittsboro Express buses can get a bus free pass through the UNC Department of Transportation and Parking. Some buses even have free parking lots for commuters to leave their cars while they ride.
If you are new to the Triangle, it will be important for you to consider transportation when looking at house options. After a long day of classes, I love being able to hop on the bus and be home in a half hour. It’s also nice to have a stop nearby so I’m not walking far on mornings when I’m running late or nights when it’s cold. I also have a car so it was important for me to find housing where I could park my car for free.
With all these great transportation options, you might be thinking, “I don’t need a car!” But unfortunately, that’s not completely true. A big part of the social work curriculum is your field placement. While there are field placement options in Chapel Hill and Carrboro, they are limited. You might not be able to get the experience you want if you are limited geographically. If you are not planning to have access to car while completing your graduate studies, it might be a good idea to talk to the field office. They can give you a good idea of what kind of field placements would be available to you and you can judge whether they would meet your educational and professional goals.
I’m lucky to be able to say I have a pretty easy commute. On class days, I can plug in my headphones and zone out while I take the bus home and on field days, I pass my half an hour commute catching up on my podcasts. But on days like this when the roads are covered in snow, it’s just best to stay home.
As many of you reading this are aware, application deadlines are coming up!
(If you didn’t know, but need to know, check it out here: https://ssw.unc.edu/programs/masters/admissions … Jan 9)
Based on my own experience and the experiences of friends, and judging from the majority of questions we get about applications, I imagine many of you reading this may be feeling a lot of conflicting things about your personal statement. Maybe some other part of your application has you feeling uneasy. Now, I realize the point of this blog is to provide a sneak-peak into life as a student at UNC-CH, but I’m gonna deviate here for a minute and share some thoughts on the most common concerns I hear from potential applicants. The primary concern being about the personal statement.
For one, the personal statement is the crown jewel of the application process. The other parts have their place and are still important, that is certain (don’t go telling Sharon Thomas that Rob said not to worry about the other stuff), but the personal statement is where the magic happens. That being said, it is not cause for CONCERN. Primarily, the personal statement is intended to show the university who you are, what you are all about, and how well you can communicate that to them. Also, no one is asking you to self-disclose or divulge extraordinarily personal information about your past or any identities. If these elements of who you are influence your interest in social work, then great- feel free to include them. If not, do not feel compelled to- but also know that, if you are comfortable doing so, it is welcomed.
Further, I think there is often some confusion about the style or “voice” in the personal statement. Many of us have gotten so used to writing in hyper-professional, sterile language for our jobs or for academic papers, but remember that this is your voice. A professional, intelligent voice (don’t write the way I am on this blog, for instance), but yours nonetheless.
If you fear that you are not a strong writer, ask a person who wrote a recommendation for you to read it, ask a family member, loved one… hell, ask a stranger on the internet if you’re so inclined. Just make sure that grammar and clumsy rhetoric are not getting in the way of communicating who you are and what you can do with an education from Chapel Hill.
I hope this provides some perspective! Take care of yourself if you’re coming up on this and other deadlines!
Let any of us student ambassadors know if you’re interested in chatting more about the school.
Academia presents itself with endless opportunities that are simply not available outside of the university structure. As an undergraduate student, I rarely took advantage of the many services and opportunities outside of my major. For my graduate career, I decided to change that for the better.
For many Distance Education students, it’s difficult to take advantage of the Clinical lecture series, student organizations, special events and conferences. It’s challenging to take even more time away from work and manage a full time schedule. For me, having an employer based field placement and an awesome faculty supervisor allowed me the opportunity to take advantage of some of the incredible resources within the the School of Social Work and the UNC Graduate School in general.
At the recommendation of my field faculty supervisor, I submitted a research proposal to the American Educational Studies Association (AESA) conference. This year, the conference took place in Pittsburgh, PA. I was so excited to hear my proposal was accepted and I presented my work on November 2nd alongside professors, counselors, social workers and graduate students to discuss research and program models that aim to make education more equitable. My presentation focused on my field placement’s model of education that incorporates participatory education, critical pedagogy and critical service learning.
In the presentation format, I had the opportunity to be on a panel with two other education professionals, which was a gateway to networking within the work we are all doing. It was an honor to be accepted into such a prestigious conference and have the opportunity to share my work on a larger scale. Attending the conference afforded me not only to spread the word about my field placement’s model and free resources in education, but for me to meet people from around the country that are incorporating social justice practices to improve public education. I was able to attend 9 other paper/program presentations and two keynote lectures, which were all incredibly inspiring and encouraged me to keep pursuing avenues for which social work and educate can intersect. I also felt inspired by the colleagues present at the conference and am considering pursuing a PhD after a few years post MSW.
As a final year social work student, this was truly a one-time opportunity for me to develop professionally and be influenced by activists and scholars that work to make big social impacts in the area of education and beyond. I am beyond grateful for support from the graduate school for providing financial support for the conference expenses and for making this opportunity possible.
Keep a look out for e-mails from the GPSF as they have a number of funding opportunities for conferences and research!
This time last year I was getting very excited about choosing a field placement for my concentration year. In the first year of the full time program, the field office assigns you a field placement (with some input on your part.) Consequently, the real excitement comes during the winter of your first year when you get to “choose” your field placement for the upcoming concentration year. I put choose in quotations because what you’re really doing is choosing 3 placements and letting the field office work their magic algorithms to give you one of those 3.
This time last year I was spending my winter break perusing the extensive list of concentration year field placements and scrupulously reading up on each agency and clinic. I was adamant that I’d be working with children in a health care setting. When the second semester started, I spent hours emailing and meeting with current second year students, interviewing them about their field placements and using this information to make my final three choices.
When February rolled around, I submitted my final three choices and anxiously waited for March, when the big reveal would take place. Fast forward a few weeks, and I get an email stating that it would greatly help the field office if I choose a fourth placement option…..Umm WHAT? I spent so much time carefully choosing my three placement picks and you want a fourth ASAP? Trying not to freak out too much, I picked a fourth option, one that there was no student I could interview, it was a clinic that exclusively works with older adults, and one that I hadn’t even considered in my original search.
As you can probably guess by now, (judging by the title of this post), that fourth field placement is the one I was matched with.
BUT …I am here to tell you why flexibility in the field placement process is key! This field placement ended up being the best place I could have landed. I love love love LOVE my field placement this year, LOVE the clinic I stumbled upon. I have superb supervisors and have learned that I really enjoy working with older adults! This time last year, I would have never imagined myself in the field placement I am in today, working with the population I am working, but today, no matter how grumpy I was initially, I thank my lucky stars that the field office asked me to be flexible.
***Disclaimer: I will say that in the field placement process, as a general rule what happened to me RARELY happens to anyone, the majority of students get one of their three picks.***
UNC School of Social Work is a very comprehensive and scrupulous academic program that purposes to prepare its students to be leaders in the field of social work. Without a purposeful balance, it is easy to dedicate the vast majority of your time on the combination of course readings, assignments, continued education requirements, and field placement hours. In our courses we learn about the ever so essential component of a successful social work career: self-care. But how often do we apply this concept?
The thing is, naturally as students we may feel guilty about enjoying a full night’s rest, an evening with friends, a book or magazine that isn’t related to coursework, or a long soak in the bathtub when there are required assignments and readings weighing on our conscience. This semester, unexpectantly “life happened” and one of my initial thoughts was, “I don’t have time for this to happen right now!” But as I reflect, I am grateful for my life event; it forced me to incorporate self-care into my routine. And as a result, I realized with self-care I am a much better version of myself. By adding self-care, I found that I have more energy, making it easier to be productive and balance my course load.
When “life happened” I also got a chance to see my support system in action; my family and friends were in my corner, cheering me on, the entirety of my life event. And notably, my cohort and my professors were there too! When “life happened” I didn’t feel alone, and that felt amazing. A staff member of the Winston-DE program informed me about an incredible resource of UNC: Accessibility Resources and Services (ARS). ARS offers a variety of resources making it possible for students to continue their coursework even when “life happens”. The accommodations granted to me allowed me to complete this semester despite my unexpected life event.
Yesterday I submitted my final assignment of the semester, and while this semester was no cake walk, I finished; even when “life happened”. I am so proud of myself for finding my inner tenacity, and I am so grateful for the support of the staff UNC School of Social Work- Winston-Salem Distance Education (DE) Program and my cohort. We don’t always get to choose when or how “life happens”, but there are some choices in life that we can make. I knew I made a good choice two years ago when I applied to the UNC School of Social Work- Winston-Salem Distance Education (DE) Program and am even more confident in that choice today!
For more information about UNC’s Accessibility Resources and Services (ARS) please visit: https://ars.unc.edu/
My MSW journey began in the Winston-Salem Distance Education (DE) Program. During the first two years in Winston-Salem, we have classes scheduled all day on Friday. I was excited about being in a learning environment again. I had perfect attendance for two years in the DE program. My plan was to continue to keep that perfect record while finishing out my final year.
During the 2nd week of my final year of Grad school, I realized that a family trip to Washington DC fell on a Monday. We finally got tickets to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture. I was torn because I did not want to miss class. I felt that I would miss a lot of information by missing one day. But I also knew that it’s challenging to get tickets to this museum. I chose to be proactive, work ahead, and email my professors to communicate that I would be absent. For me, this trip became more about self-care and less about being critical of myself for missing class.
I don’t advise missing class but I live by the quote “Self-Care is the Best Care.” I took a brain break from Grad school to spend time with a portion of my family, my biggest support system, and enjoy this historic museum. Family time was fun as usual, but the museum was so full of history and I left with a sense of Pride that I’ve never felt before. I was able to gain more insight on social injustices, marginalization, and the history of oppression. Some portions of the museum reminded me of articles and videos from the History of Oppression course that we (students) completed the summer before starting the MSW program.
My decision to engage in a day off and self-care resulted in me gaining more insight into African-American culture which increased my sense of self-pride! Wouldn’t you consider that to be a win?!