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 can’t believe that I am at the end of my MSW journey! Looking back, it feels like each semester flew by. I met some very influential people along the way. My cohort became a supportive family and my professors never hesitate when I ask for assistance whether it is for a reference or advice. I’ve gained so much knowledge and I feel that my clinical skills were enhanced in the classroom and out in the field. I have a new perspective on advocacy and I’m looking forward to the opportunities that will come to stand up for social justice.
I think the unique thing about graduate school is that individual stories are different and inspiring in their own way. There are opportunities to step into another person’s journey just by taking the time to listen. I’ve heard stories that involve celebrations, heartbreaks, confusion, positive encounters, doubt, and fear. There were two things in common with all of these individual journeys and they were not quitting and a love for social work.
Whatever your journey looks like, let it be just that…YOUR JOURNEY! Although challenging situations may occur in the midst of getting a degree, don’t let those moments overcome your dreams. Don’t be afraid to ask for help and build strong connections with people that really support you.
I’m so excited about walking across the stage in a few days. There will be a huge celebration with family and friends. And I look forward to giving back to future students the way that supervisors, mentors, and peers poured into me!
MSW Candidate 2018
Forever a TARHEEL
I absolutely love working with older adults; I’ve worked with the stated population for nearly fifteen years (yes, I began when I was only five years old…). I love serving and advocating for older adults, as they are the very people who have paved the way for all of us today. I love the wisdom and life lessons that older adults share knowingly and unknowingly. Older adults have continuously inspired me to strive to be the best version of myself that I can be, in fact older adults are who inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in social work, as I wanted to gain the skills necessary to serve this population in excellence.
In addition to the older adult population, I have a passion for our nation’s veterans. I grew up in a military town and my father is an Army Veteran who served for nearly 23 years; he is a recipient of a Bronze Star (award given to those who achieve a heroic act during combat) and a Purple Heart (award given those who were wounded in combat) among many other honors. I have been privileged to know many other servicemen and servicewomen like my father, who have humbly and bravely served our country, asking for nothing in return. Working in long-term care has afforded me intimate opportunities of hearing the stories of veterans who served in wars such as, World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. I’ve seen some of these heroes at their most vulnerable moments, including end of life, which has further peaked my interest in wanting to serve our nation’s veterans.
For my specialized field placement I wanted an opportunity to learn ways to greater assist veterans; not only older adults who are veterans, but those of all ages and a of varying needs. The Salisbury VA Medical Center (VAMC) chooses twelve social work interns annually. In January of this year, I applied for the VA Social Work Internship Program for 2018-2019 at the Salisbury VA Medical Center (VAMC) along with three other students in my cohort; we were all very nervous yet hopeful that we would be selected. This placement is highly sought after by social work students, as it is a placement that is known for having very high quality social work staff, and for their dedication to provide comprehensive field experiences to student interns. This placement is unique in that student interns are given the opportunity to complete rotations with a variety of programs within the VA which provides a rich and expansive field placement. We were thrilled to learn that all four of us were selected as candidates for this prestigious opportunity. We are looking forward to embarking on this new journey together at the Salisbury VA Medical Center (VAMC)…GO HEELS!!!!!
UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work Winston-Salem Distance Education Students are excited to “branch” off into a new endeavor together (pictured left to right: Marquita Laughlin, Mattie Steele, Veronica Kenny-Macpherson, and John Bailey).
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.