Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!

Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!  This blog was created by current student Ambassadors of the UNC School of Social Work MSW programs 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!

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Advanced Standing or not Advanced Standing…

…This may be the question on your mind right now with application deadlines coming up in only a few short months! I am sorry to say that I can’t make up your mind for you. However, I would love to let you know a little bit about my experience in the AS program, which might provide some clarity on the realities of this fast-track option.
I began my classes in May- only ONE WEEK after graduating from my BSW program! When deciding on what program would be right for me, I remember questioning my desire to do Advanced Standing. I considered many questions such as “Can I handle this?”, “Will my soul be crushed within a few months?”, and “Will this program be able to provide me with the knowledge that I need?”. Now, being on the other side of Summer, I can report to you that my soul has yet to be crushed AND I feel more confident every day that I am gaining the advanced knowledge and skills I need to become an effective social worker. Most of all, I feel that the UNC School of Social Work faculty has helped me on a daily basis to make sure I am able to handle the stressors that come along with the UNC academic workload. Though UNC may offer a challenging program, I assure you- it is worth it!

With the campus now filled up with many new and returning students, I am also realizing how lucky I was to have the summer session as a period of adjustment to learn the ins and outs of not only the School of Social Work, but all of the amazing things that the Carolina campus and Chapel Hill community have to offer. Though the AS option may sound a little daunting, the summer is really the trickiest piece of the puzzle. However, the schedule does allow some down time to visit family and friends, or take a quick vacation. After all, social workers are always advocating for self-care! We were given a two week break between the summer and fall sessions, which allowed time to recuperate from the busy summer, reflect on my new learning experiences, and continue building friendships with peers in my AS cohort.

The highlight of my break was being able to volunteer for one of my peers Brittany who was wrapping up her first big project through her internship with Chapel Hill/Carrboro Communities in Schools. Her “Stuff the Bus” Campaign collected thousands of dollars’ worth of school supplies for children in the community- and it was so much fun!

(See picture below of Brittany with some of the donated supplies- amazing!).

Brittany
Overall, I feel that the Advanced Standing option was a perfect fit for me. I was able to spend the summer in an intense learning environment building relationships with 21 amazing individuals, through which I experienced many learning opportunities that often challenged my ideas, beliefs and past knowledge. The challenges I have faced during my few months at UNC have all contributed to my love of this program and the faculty who work hard every day to support and encourage students’ dreams. If you are struggling with deciding whether the UNC program, or various program options, are the right fit for you- I encourage you to reach out to one of us. The student ambassadors are here to help you better understand the UNC MSW program and its many options that await you. We would love to hear from you. Happy Fall everyone!

Posted in Academics

Reflections on my first year (TOP 5) & SELF CARE!!

So…I know most of you are very curious about applying to graduate school or beginning your first year as a graduate student. I would definitely say that my first year was amazing and made a huge impact on my educational journey. I would also say that it was a learning experience for juggling family/personal life, work, and academics. Here is my advice for first years:

  • Form meaningful relationships with your classmates and professors. They will be your colleagues and serve as allies for years to come.
  • Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion and speak your mind, particularly with challenging/controversial subject matter. Your individuality is what got you into the program, and your unique experiences will guide your learning process. As social workers we must be agents of change, and sometimes this means confronting issues head on and pushing through our feelings of anxiety.
  • Be honest with your professors. If something comes up and you know you will need an extension, it’s okay to be upfront and ask for an extended deadline on an assignment. These rules are usually outlined in the syllabus i.e. if an extension is requested, ask at least one week in advance.
  • It is normal not to complete all of the readings. Do the best you can. A take away I learned from my first year, is to make connections with the readings that personally interest you and will help you write papers. You can look ahead to the assignment prompts and think on how the information relates to you personally in order to identify areas of interest in the readings. Not only will this help you retain meaningful information and allow you to contribute to class discussions, but it will also begin a reference list and help form ideas for paper topics.
  • Find something you enjoy and put it in your schedule. It has always been hard for me to put myself first. I wasn’t used to being intentional when it comes to self-care. The “go go go” mentality is unsafe and unhealthy. If we expect our clients to take care of themselves, then we must do the same.

**One great idea I learned from one of my classmates is the idea of a “Self Care Jar.” You can make a list of things you enjoy and put those things into a jar on scraps of paper. Each week, try to randomly pick one thing out of the jar as a treat to yourself or engage in a fun activity. IT’S OKAY TO RELAX and take time out for YOU.

There is also the idea of an “Achievement Jar”: for this option, you place a scrap of paper in the jar each time you achieve a personal goal or do something extraordinary throughout the year. At the end of the year/for New Years, pull each item out of the jar and reflect on all the wonderful things you did throughout the year!

I hope this has helped you in some way…GOOD LUCK with the start of your semester!!

Best regards, BA

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So Long Summer!

It’s with a heavy heart that we bid farewell to summer this week! For us Concentration year folks, classes and our new field placements began last week, and summer already feels like it never happened. I spent my summer in Chapel Hill, and am so glad that I stuck around!

Once classes wrapped up in April, I began an internship with the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research at Duke University (thankfully I did not have to be surrounded by Blue Devils during basketball season!).

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This internship gave me the opportunity to assist a team of 4 (including 2 MSWs from UNC!) as they wrapped up a four-year research project. The project sought to assess the impact of a State Bridge Counseling intervention on the re-engagement in medical care for people living with HIV/AIDS. It dovetailed perfectly with my interest in HIV, as well as my field placement at Under One Roof last year. The team let me sit in on interviews, create interview guides, clean up transcripts, create nodes, and code interviews. Even though I was only there twice a week, my contributions felt valuable, and I had a really fulfilling experience.

I also took classes this summer, to lighten my workload and leave a little extra time to train for my first marathon in November (eek) and apply for jobs in the spring. I took Trauma and Violence, Motivational Interviewing, and Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drugs (ATOD). ATOD was the first online class I’ve ever taken, and it was the perfect way to be productive during the summer! We had class assignments due each week, but everything was self-paced so I could work around my internship and travel plans as much as I needed. Trauma & Violence was a pretty heavy subject to take, especially during summer “vacation”. But it was taught by Dr. Stephanie Francis, the director of Volunteer & Intern Development at InterAct, which made all the difference. Her wealth of first-hand experience and passion for the topic made me excited to go to class each week (no easy task when class is from 9am-4pm!). Motivational Interviewing was a shorter class, and provided my peers and I with plenty of time to observe and practice skills in a mock-therapeutic environment. Practicing being a therapist in front of my classmates was nerve-racking, but was the best way to help me learn!

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As sad as I am that summer is over, I am so excited to be reunited with my cohort, and begin my field placement with Orange County Child Protective Services!

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THE STRUGGLE IS REAL…ly over?

In 14 days I’ll be walking across a stage.

1…..4……. that is super soon.

How did the last year of my MSW program go by so quickly?

The struggle that was once oh so real, is now, really over.

I don’t know how to feel. Part of me is like Yeaaaaa! The other part is like…huh? but… but? You’re telling me I won’t walk into TTK anymore and see my friends in my cohort? Or I won’t scurry up to the 5th floor lab to print a paper right before class anymore? Is it so? Is it so?

Wow.

Well my experiences at the School of Social work have been outstanding. I’ve had so many great opportunities from being a Research Assistant for two years, to being selected as the National winner of a Council on Social Work education scholarship, to attending several conferences, to being a social work ambassador, to building relationships that can last a lifetime. Attending school when I did happened at the most perfect time in my life. It gave me a fresh academic wind and helped me focus the rest of my career. Even though I knew I wanted to continue working in college access, getting my Masters helped me solidify the reasons why community outreach should be my first priority in assisting students to college. The knowledge gained in the classroom have helped me connect real world experience to various theories, therapies, and techniques.

Through my internship, I gained great experience and built professional networks that I can rely on in the future. All and all this was a great experience.

Even as I type this I still can’t believe its all over…. even though being in this program was  a struggle at times, I really enjoyed it. I love staying busy and this program provided me just that.

Well if you’re reading this and planning to pursue social work, you should. It’s a great field with great people who do great work.

Thanks for reading my posts this year! Best wishes in your future endeavors!

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End of the year events!

Well, I can’t believe it. In a little over 3 weeks, I will be walking across that MSW stage and graduating as a alum of the UNC program. So much has happened throughout my one year at Carolina, and it has been such a world wind. I cannot believe my time here is almost up and I have enjoyed writing these monthly Ambassador blogs so much!

There are many end of the semester events that have taken place throughout this past week that I am been luckily enough to have been apart of. On Thursday, April 9th, the Dean hosted a scholarship reception for all social work student recipients and donors alike. This was a great night for me, as I was able to gain a deeper perspective into our field from my amazing colleagues. Throughout this reception I was able to hear what other students have been doing throughout their time in the MSW program, the populations they serve, and their professional interests– a true motivation to listen to. Moreover, I got to talk with my specific donor, who has given funds in order to make graduate school a tangible option for myself and other students. This was a humbling night, as I got to witness firsthand all the behind the scenes work of people who truly believe in the heart of social work. Although we might not see them everyday, they truly back our school 100% and are committed to the initiative of serving helping professionals.

The next day kicked off our wonderful Welcome Weekend for newly accepted students! Both Friday and Saturday was the highlight of my weekend, as I got to meet all of you–our newly admitted students within the UNC program. This weekend is great for us as ambassadors because we can finally put a name to a face in who we have been communicating with over the past few months. It also is great to see such excitement in the room from our new incoming class–your energy and passion is contagious! I hope this weekend was beneficial to you all in gaining new information about our program, finding out housing options, financial requirements, and even course work expectations. We truly enjoyed having you here at our school and cannot wait to see you in the summer and fall.

Lastly, yesterday the School of Social Work hosted their annual Career Day. This event was held specifically for students and outside community members who are on the job market (like myself) and getting ready for upcoming employment. With over 65 agencies present, this day gave a great opportunity for students to network with future employers and is another great example of professional development that is taking place at UNC outside of course work requirements. I enjoyed being able to get to know new agencies in the area, as well as having a chance to practice my skills of interviewing and resume building. I am hopeful that the connections I made yesterday at the career fair will amount to a great opportunity for employment in the future. Thanks UNC SSW!

After reflecting on this great (and extremely quick!) year in the Advanced Standing program, I am so fortunate that I got to contribute as an Ambassador. I want to encourage all students, no matter what your cohort, to apply to become an Ambassador when you arrive at the school. Being able to represent this university and the 5th leading school in the nation has been such an honor and I’m so fortunate to have completed my education here. With only 2 papers, and 1 presentation left, I cannot wait to put the letters “MSW” and “alumni” after my name in a few short weeks!

And of course, as always–go heels.

Ciao, Regina

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Spring in North Carolina!

Whether you’ve lived here your whole life or have never traveled to the east coast, you have probably heard how beautiful and wonderful North Carolina is (okay maybe I’m a little bias). There is no denying the convenience of the beach and the mountains in one state. From Chapel Hill, you can reach both the beach in Wilmington and the mountains in Boone in just about 2 1/2 hours. AND…there are a thousand little places in between and all around NC that are worth a day trip. I don’t care who you are, that’s a good deal!

Arguably, one of the best times to go on adventures in NC is the Spring. The Spring brings life and excitement and motivation into our stressed out, MSW-seeking spirits. Even just a walk through campus and to the Tate-Turner-Kuralt building is a beautiful work of art on a warm but breezy Spring Day. Around the Triangle there are outdoor museums, the Arboretum on campus, Duke Gardens and UNC Botanical Gardens, and other outdoorsy destinations like Jordan Lake, the Rock Quarry, Eno River State Park, and tons and tons of trails. Around the state there are numerous lakes, festivals, beaches, and hiking trails.

This past weekend, I went hiking up King’s Mountain near Gastonia, NC (about a 2 1/2 hour drive). It was extremely challenging (full self-disclosure: exercise is not one of my preferred self-care outlets) but extremely rewarding to get to the top and see the incredible view! Not to mention excellent exercise…I was sore for three days. More than anything, it was an awesome break from the pending end-of-semester rush and final year course and field placement preparation. I spent time with my family, met a goal, breathed some fresh air, and was rewarded with an awesome view and memories!

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No matter what type of hobbies you like to do in the Spring, there’s an excellent chance, North Carolina is a great place to enjoy them!

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Foundation Field Reflections

As hard as it is to believe, I will be wrapping up my Foundation Field Placement at CareNet Counseling in the next few weeks. CareNet has been a great fit for me personally and professionally. As I think back about the last 8 months, several observations come to mind regarding this aspect of my professional  development.

(1) A Multifaceted Experience

One of the purposes of the first year of field placement (Foundation Year) is to broaden the student’s experience and training by requiring an approximately 50-50 balance between Direct Practice (DP) activities that involve direct service to clients (e.g., counseling, assessments, case management, etc.) and Community Management  & Policy Practice (CMPP) activities that impact the organization and/or the larger community (e.g., collecting agency data, researching community needs, advocating for public policy changes, etc.). At CareNet, I have had great opportunities in both categories. I have been able to observe licensed clinicians as they performed individual and family therapy, and even carry a therapy caseload of my own. I have updated marketing materials and represented CareNet at events like health fairs and conventions. I have researched clinical service data and attended inter-organizational meetings about improving health outcomes in local communities. I have been able to sharpen my treatment skills through clinical supervision and learn about organizational management and leadership by shadowing the agency’s Chief Operating Officer. All in all, it has been an ideal mix of learning opportunities that has affirmed my vision for my career: to earn my clinical license and provide direct mental health treatment, and to work my way up into an organizational leadership role.

(2) Parallel Process

MSW students complete field placements concurrent with their coursework as a way of putting their classroom learning into practice as they are learning it. This principle has been a reality for me this year. As I have learned about specific evidence-supported practices, I have been able to apply them directly to my work at CareNet. For example, a class assignment that required me to research mindfulness-based treatments led me to introduce the practice of mindfulness to two of my therapy clients, both of whom have benefitted from their experience so far and plan to pursue mindfulness-based treatment with other therapists after I leave. Also, a section of coursework on increasing employee diversity in human service organizations led to a conversation with my Field Instructor about ways that CareNet can quantify and address its goal of diversifying its clinical staff. Such direct links between course topics and professional practice have served to strengthen my professional development and increase my excitement about my budding career as a social worker.

(3) Discovering My INcompetency

A few months into my time at CareNet, I began to feel like I had found my groove. I had built relationships with agency staff, was familiar with policies and procedures, had arranged my schedule effectively, and—most importantly—I felt like I was doing good work on my CMPP projects and with my clients. This sense of competency and effectiveness lasted until about the middle of this semester. It was at that point that I reached what felt like the limits of my abilities and expertise. All of a sudden, I realized how much more I needed to know to make a bigger impact on the agency and the community it serves. I felt overwhelmed by how rudimentary my skills were as a clinician and by how many scientifically-supported interventions exist that are not in my “tool belt” yet.

Certainly, finding the limits of my competency shook my confidence a bit, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt excited about it and motivated by it. I had learned enough to see that there was so much more to learn. And it happened just in time, as I was beginning to plan out my advanced practice and elective courses for the following year and finalize my next field placement. My newly-discovered incompetencies sharpened my focus and shaped my goals for Concentration Year.

Obviously, my field placement at CareNet has been a great experience. It seems fitting to me that the above observations reflect not just my personal experience, but precisely what field placement is designed to be.

For those of you who have been admitted and are still in the decision process, best of luck! UNC is a great place to be, especially for the field of social work, so I hope you will join our community. For those of you who are already on board, welcome! Get ready for a challenging, life-changing, and exciting next few years!

Go Heels!

 

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