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!
As my third year of graduate school is coming to an end, I have been reflecting back on many things while also looking forward to what is yet to come. It is hard to believe that just a few years ago, in 2014, I began this journey of the unknown. And now, I am embarking on becoming an LCSW and seeing my dreams come to fruition. I find myself reminiscing on my past experiences, and the struggles and joys that brought me where I am today. To anyone who thinks, should I go to graduate school? Am I good enough? Can I make it in school for 2-3 more years? I encourage you to KEEP PUSHING.
It may seem like a never-ending road, but trust me…the end of the road is within grasp. If you would have asked my 5 years ago would I be in graduate school, the answer likely would have been “No.” If you would have asked my 10 years ago, would I be an undergraduate student at one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, I would have said “I sure hope so.” And if you would have asked me 15 years ago, would I make it out of small town, rural NC, I would have said “It’s doubtful.” But no matter where you come from and what background, you have the potential to achieve whatever you set your mind to. I truly believe that. With resilience, determination, and perseverance, the sky is the limit. Never give up on your dreams, never forget how far you’ve come, and never forget the goodness that drew you to this field. I feel that now more than ever, our country needs strong social workers to serve our disenfranchised and underserved populations. The field calls for us to get out of our comfort zones and analyze our own lens and biases, in order to make a change for the greater good. What better time than NOW?
“Two roads diverged in a wood and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” –Robert Frost
I have always been the type to learn through action, from riding a bike to doing a clinical assessment. I never understood until the task was there in front of me. The Praxis is a large part of what drew me to social work. I started at the School of Social Work knowing this service learning to be my strength and thought I could continue floating by on this learning style alone. However, I soon found myself struggling with frameworks and concepts in class.
My immediate reaction was to dismiss frameworks and conceptualizations as impractical and just “academic work written for other academics”. Much to my surprise, my peers (tactfully) refuted my claims and supported their stance with points. Concepts give us a common language to speak about the work we do. Frameworks can be investigated and tested to determine their effectiveness. What good is action without evidence that it works? Still stubborn, I persisted that evidence based practice is good and all, however action research is what is ethical. Everything is situational.
What I have learned this semester is that both conceptualizations and practical models of social work are useful. There is little in this world that is dichotomous and models of social work practice are not exempt.
I owe my field supervisor and field instructor greatly for helping me bridge the actions I was taking in field and the concepts I was learning in class. In my evaluation, I embarrassingly stumbled on the sections of the learning agreement that asked about assessment and intervention. My field instructor, Theresa, was able to show me how the stories I had shared from my practice fit into these concepts.
I am grateful that the School of Social Work has challenged me and forced me to connect the classroom and field.
Anyone who has been in social work for a minute knows how quickly practice can become overwhelming. The task list is always growing, the backlog of documentation is piling, and there is a new fire to put out daily.
Each day I would organize and allocate time obsessively to ensure I could get everything done that I wanted to. My stress levels peaked as my expectations for myself rose beyond what I was capable of. Being the coordinator of a program is a new adventure for me and I have never had to set my own pace. I was accomplishing a lot and receiving praise, however, I started to hate my work. I had a knot in my stomach anytime I thought about work.
At this point, it was evident I needed to do something different. I sought out answers, the same way I would for a client. What I found was “The Miracle of Mindfulness”, by Thich Naht Hanh. Since incorporating mindfulness into my life, I have been able to allow myself to work at a slow, even leisurely pace. Not only has it brought me pleasure to the most mundane tasks (documentation, but it has increased my effectiveness because I am singularly focused on what is in front of me. Most importantly, it has brought me peace and sanity.
“Yes, in all my research, the greatest leaders looked inward and were able to tell a good story with authenticity and passion.”
December can be a really hectic time of year, especially for graduate students or applicants to graduate school programs. For me this last semester flew by in the blink the eye! Now that the semester has ended, I am using the few weeks before classes start back up to really reflect on what my true passions in social work are, and how I plan to use the rest of my time at the UNC School of Social work to turn those passions into actions.
I have also reached the point in the program where I have to decide whether to select a concentration in Direct Practice or Macro social work. For me, making the decision between the two concentrations was a tough one. All of my previous work experience has drawn on macro perspectives, and I feel that I truly thrive in the community organizing and program management aspects of social work. However, because I am hoping to work within the school systems and obtain the School Social Work certificate, I will have to select a concentration in Direct Practice. At first, it seemed daunting to shift out of my comfort zone into uncharted territories, but after a bit of reflection from my semester taking both direct practice and macro courses, I realized that the greatest opportunity for growth and new learning will come from exploring and advancing coursework within direct practice.
So, whether you’re a current student selecting your academic path, or you are in the application process for the UNC School of Social work, take some time in December and throughout the new year to reflect on what drew you to this program and what story it is you want to tell. For current applicants, the personal narrative is one of the most important factors for acceptance into the program. It is the opportunity to share your passions and tell the story of what will make you have incredible impact in the world of social work.
“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” —Mark Twain
Happy reflecting and happy holidays!
Being in social work school can be draining. Grad school alone is a challenge, but the depth of social work can cause you to feel particularly overwhelmed. This semester has felt especially heavy as I plunge into issues of intimate partner violence, childhood sexual assault, and a myriad of other injustices and heartbreaking experiences, both in the classroom and with my therapy clients at my field placement.
In the midst of my occasional emotional paralysis, I am led back to a question a friend asked me many years ago: What’s the best thing?
Since being asked myself, I have asked countless friends, family members, and acquaintances, writing down each answer as I go. When I feel down or pessimistic, I refer to this precious list, remembering the best things in life, both big and small. “Hearing your favorite song on the radio.” “Sleepovers that turn into all-day hangouts.” “Seeing the moon during the daytime.” “Riding horses.” “Being honest and having someone really hear you.” “When my daughter was born.” “Being in a warm bed in a cold house.” “The last sentence of a really good book.”
And so, I open the question up to you. What is the best thing? Comment here. E-mail me (email@example.com). Ask a friend. Start your own list. Regardless of what you do with the question, let’s aim to remember this perspective that is always available to us.
Within field experience (and MSW education in general), some of the most valuable resources I’ve encountered have been my field supervisors. These men and women, primarily LCSWs and clinical psychologists, have been critical to increasing my understanding of the ins and outs of various treatment modalities as well as the ever-changing mental health landscape in North Carolina. They have imparted their far-reaching knowledge and wisdom to help provide guidance, skills, and insight that would otherwise be near impossible to attain without many, many years of professional experience.
Furthermore, the varied supervision styles and therapeutic presentations of these supervisors have provided excellent models of how to collaborate with clients and colleagues alike. Also, unlike some supervisors of yesteryear, modern-day supervision may allow for a substantial level of give and take, with supervisees having the opportunity to critically explore and discuss approaches to clinical issues that may not have been previously considered.
Carl Jung said, “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” Great supervision can be much the same way.
One of the positive factors that come along with attending a distance education program is the closeness of the cohort. I remember the first orientation, ice breaker activities, and introductions back in August 2015. I knew right away that a cohort with all women would be special and interesting. The wide range between ages, work experiences, and life challenges makes each of our classes unique. I thoroughly enjoy sitting in class and hearing from the other ladies who have experiences in other careers for years. Their expertise from teaching abroad, working as a lawyer, and assisting in a cardiology clinic help shape the atmosphere for learning.
The best part of being apart of a cohort for two years is seeing a social work bond being created. We inspire and ignite ideas in one another. For example, on certain days, I can tune in to a particular person who is passionate about a specific population and it motivates me to find that same drive. In between classes I see ladies confide in one another about the challenges that life presents while being in graduate school. I have watched friendships blossom and support grow non-stop. From going out in large groups to each lunch, to sending Facebook messages in the private group to push one another to finish a paper, we have formed a cohort family. Fifteen females can’t be perfect but we often take the time to listen to each other’s perspective. And with the support from our professors, in the Winston-Salem Distance Education Program, we plan to someday take over the world!