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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Social Marketing and Social Work

One of my favorite courses in undergrad was a psychology course I took on marketing and advertisement. I already had an understanding of the “manipulation” going on in ads through personal experience. How many toy commercials had I seen as a kid that convinced me life would be that much better if I had a remote controlled car or a Star Wars action figure? Or as a young adult, ads that led me to think some certain brand of household item was substantially superior to another?  Understanding the psychological principles used to make ads effect was eye opening for me. When we think of marketing, we often think first of advertisements promoting the sale of items with the goal of increasing profit, but ads can also be powerful tools for social change. One of the things I love most about courses in our program here is that we often get to hear guest lecturers who are experts in their field. I learned more about the role of social marketing in my Advanced Policy course this semester.

Social marketing is not just social media. It is the use of marketing principles to influence human behavior in order to improve health. Social marketing is useful when knowledge is not enough. For example, we all should know by know that smoking harms your health and yet people continue to smoke. Social marketing campaigns can help promote change by drawing on our emotional responses and identifying other benefits that may not be immediately apparent. In planning a social marketing campaign, it is is important to define your audience, present benefits that your audience will find appealing, and to get your message out in ways that will reach your audience. Campaigns require work at all phases. It is important to do pre-testing and be prepared for mid course correction. Then promote, promote, promote and evaluate!

4 P’s of Social Marketing

– product

– price

– place

– promotion

Some popular social marketing campaigns you might be familiar with are Smokey the Bear ads to prevent forest fires and the more recent “1 is 2 many” campaign to end sexual violence. This is a powerful example of a campaign to save a public library:

Learning about social marketing is very inspiring to me. Sometimes I can feel overwhelmed by the messages so often promoted in the media that do not promote health or social justice. But there is a way to use the same tools for good, to create positive change. I encourage all social workers to consider ways to promote their positive messages through social marketing.

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Gearing Up for Final Year

We’ve just passed the halfway point for the spring semester, and so far so good. Field placement continues to be a great learning experience, and I’m enjoying classes. Yes, even the research class! (I’m a direct practice guy.) I have to confess, though, that I’m having a hard time staying “in the present” as I’ve begun the process of planning for my final year in the program. I’m a student in the Winston-Salem distance program, so it will be Year 3 for me, and the challenges and opportunities that await already have me excited. Specifically…

(1) Chapel Hill! After two years of Fridays in Winston-Salem, I’ll be spending Mondays and/or Tuesdays in the Southern Part of Heaven. A lot has changed since my undergraduate years in Chapel Hill…many moons ago…but I look forward to the chiming of the Bell Tower, the bustle of campus, and absorbing the incredible academic environment of the University and the School of Social Work.

(2) Field Placement! I’m very fortunate to have already been accepted at the field placement site that I wanted—the Salisbury VA Medical Center. I pursued that particular site for many reasons, such as the opportunity to serve the military veteran population, the breadth of experiences available there, and the chance to receive training in evidence-based treatment approaches such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Cognitive Processing Therapy. From what I’ve been told, the Salisbury VA is very selective in choosing their social work interns, so I am thrilled and humbled to be able to learn and serve there. I have no doubt that the quality and reputation of the UNC’s social work program played a big part in my being selected as an intern at the VA.

(3) Electives! I have to admit that I’ve been geeking out over my class schedule for several weeks now. There are so many electives that I want to take that I’ve had a hard time narrowing them down. I may even end up taking more than the minimum number of hours and/or auditing a few classes, just to fit everything in. As an aspiring mental health clinician, I can’t pass up the chance to study subjects like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, group therapy, substance abuse, and the effects and treatment of trauma and violence. Coupled with my field placement experience at the VA, I believe that my final year coursework is going to give me a fantastic foundation for a career of effective clinical service. (To check out course listings, syllabi, and past course schedules, check out the Academic Resources page under “Current Students” at the UNC SSW website. http://ssw.unc.edu/students/academic/advising)

(4) Networking! It has become abundantly clear to me over the last year that professional networking is incredibly important, and what better network to have than the professors and students at one of the top social work schools in the nation? UNC’s social work faculty is on the vanguard of social work research and practice. Better yet, every single one of them with whom I’ve interacted has been approachable, positive, and helpful. I have already seen the benefits of going the extra mile to build relationships with faculty and classmates in that I have multiple career possibilities on the table for next year following graduation. Likewise, I have been able to open doors for classmates by connecting them to my own professional network. As excited as I am about the learning opportunities that next year’s coursework and field placement will bring, I am also looking forward to expanding my network of professional connections in order to increase my opportunities for serving vulnerable populations.

With so many aspects of next year to look forward to, I may have to practice some “mindfulness” to keep my focus in the here and now.

Then again, seven more weeks of classes, assignments, papers, and exams will no doubt keep me anchored in the present. Time to finish strong!

Stay warm, everyone!

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UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work Faculty Highlight

I always encourage individuals thinking about applying to any school for any program to take a look at the School’s faculty directory. It is worth taking the time to do this background research because these are potentially the people who will be shaping your learning experience. Another reason this could be beneficial is if you are interested in doing research while in your social work program, you can look into faculty members research interests. For today’s post I wanted to highlight some of the faculty members I’ve personally had as professors, am doing research with, and overall think are really awesome.

The relationships you develop during your time in your program–be it with your peers, professors, and community members–are invaluable.

UNC-Chapel Hill School of Social Work Faculty Directory:  http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty

*Faculty members below are not listed in any specific order! This list is not extensive. I could rave about so many professors but it’d take many, many posts. The Contact Magazine often does Faculty & Staff highlights: http://ssw.unc.edu/contact2/2015/01/faculty-and-staff-briefs-7/

**Please note each of the web links will provide you with a list of the courses that faculty member has taught/teaches, their research interests, and other relevant information. 

Denise’ Dews (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty/dews)

Denise’ is a clinical assistant professor and has served as my field supervisor (through Field Education Office) for the past two years. She is a passionate and kind individual who has helped me in my journey of discovering where I want to go with my career. She has offered me countless words of advice, encouraged me to strive to be a better social worker, and affirmed me in my journey.

Professional interests involve: Social work intervention at end-of-life; medical social work; child welfare, child abuse & neglect, child protection; &  social work education.

Dr. Cindy Fraga Rizo (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty/rizo)

Dr. Cindy Fraga Rizo was one of the first professors I met at UNC-CH SSW. I am currently serving as her research assistant and we focus on an array of issues affecting Latina IPV survivors (i.e. coping strategies, best practices for direct service providers). It has been great having her as a research supervisor and working alongside her. She has an extraordinary work ethic! I had never engaged in research prior to this position (which was intimidating) but she has kindly taught me along the way. Also, she is one of the only Latina professors in the School of Social Work!

Recently was the recipient of a UNC Junior Faculty Development award for her project, “Developing North Carolina Practice Guidelines for Latina Survivors of Partner Violence.”

Professional interests involve: Intimate partner violence (particularly among Latina survivors); child exposure to intimate partner violence; trauma; coping; social work with the Latino community; cultural competency; intervention development; community-based research.

Dr. Lisa de Saxe Zerden (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty/lisazerden)

There are not enough positive things I can write about Dr. Zerden! If you get admitted to UNC-CH’s SSW she will definitely be someone you want to make sure you cross paths with. She serves as the Social Work Student Organization (SoWoSO) faculty member and advocates on behalf of all the students in the program (this is only one of her many roles). I am currently taking Health Access and Health Disparities Policy with her…GREAT course! Definitely recommend it if you are interested in public health, health equity, and medical social work.

Dr. Zerden along with Dr. Jones recently received $1.4 million federal grant for integrative healthcare project: http://uncnews.unc.edu/2014/10/30/school-social-work-receives-2-2-million-federal-funding-prepare-students-integrated-healthcare/

10 Questions to get to know Dr. Zerden: http://ssw.unc.edu/contact2/2014/03/10-questions-get-to-know-lisa-zerden/

Professional interests involve: Health Equity, HIV/AIDS Prevention, Substance Abuse, Social Welfare Policy, and Social Work Education

Dr. Paul Lanier (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty/lanier)

I had Dr. Lanier in my first semester of the full-time program for the course: Social Welfare Policy. He is genuinely one of the funniest people in the School. He made difficult material “easy to digest” and kept us updated on relevant current events. I see him throughout the building often and can always catch him with a smile.

He was recently awarded a grant to study the effectiveness of a parent support program: http://ssw.unc.edu/contact2/2015/01/lanier-awarded-grant-to-study-effectiveness-of-parent-support-program/

Professional  interests involve: Child maltreatment prevention; parenting interventions; strengthening families; maternal and child health; evidence-based practice; program evaluation; implementation science; policy development.

Dr. Iris Carlton-LaNey (http://ssw.unc.edu/about/faculty/carlton-laney)

Hands down…an amazing social worker, professor, and overall human being! If you have an opportunity to take a course with her–do it! I took Confronting Oppresion & Institutional Discrimination (Discrimination & Inequality) with her in Spring 2014 and it remains as one of my favorite classes (definitely heart wrenching material..).

Recently named NASW Social Work Pioneer: 



Professional interests involve: Social Welfare History (especially African-Americans and the Progressive Era); Rural Elderly African-American Women and Social Support.

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Short Courses

Are you familiar with short courses? I wasn’t aware of the concept before starting the MSW program at UNC. In the spring, there are a variety of short courses offered in the school of social work. These are 7 week courses that are either in the first or second half of the semester. The short courses are on a variety of elective topics, both direct and macro practice related.

The short courses offer a way for the students to take more elective topics. For example, instead of taking one 3 credit hour elective for the entire semester we can take two 1.5 credit hour electives on different topics. This semester I am taking asset development practice and policy and program development and proposal preparation. The short courses are very helpful when wanting to learn a lot of content in your short time in the MSW program.

A challenge to the short courses can be the work load and the timing of the short courses. However, overall they are a great piece to the curriculum that makes UNC’s MSW program unique. You can check out the classes the school offers and some previous syllabi online under current students, academic resources. As a prospective student I found this part of the school’s website really helpful.


Posted in Academics | Tagged

Racial Equity Training and Connecting to a Social Justice Community

In the late Maya Angelou’s poem “Alone”, she ends each verse with the phrase:

Nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.

As I progress through and now near the end of the MSW program, I am increasingly finding this to be true. Though many may view social work as a feel-good profession where all work is group-based and everyone holds hands singing “Kumbaya” every day, this has not always been my reality. Yes, as an Advanced Standing student, enduring the trial-by-fire bridge course has resulted in me gaining what I like to call a social work family. And as we joined the final year students this fall, that family has expanded. However, despite becoming a part of this growing social work community, when it came to my work (and life), I often found myself still holding onto very individualistic ideals.

Coming into the MSW program, I wanted to start a nonprofit to help the homeless. When visualizing how that would be accomplished, sad to say, it always centered on what I would do. I would assess the community’s needs. I would come up with the organization’s mission, vision, and goals. I would write the grants, apply for 501 c3 status, etc. Needless to say, this mindset was not very “social worker-like.” However, though my interests have shifted and developed as a result of being in the program (in previous posts I explain my transition from Direct Practice to CMPP), I have still carried that individualistic mindset into my work and goals. It has not been until recently that I have come to realize the value of community, especially when it comes to achieving social justice and equity.

As part of my independent study course, I was given the opportunity to attend the Racial Equity Institute’s Phase I training in Chapel Hill. Through training and consultation services, the Racial Equity Institute (REI) works to “bring awareness to the root causes of disparities and disproportionality in order to create racially equitable organizations and systems” (REI, 2015). This training focused various on aspects of structural racism and implicit bias in the United States. Though I felt that I was one who was pretty aware of racial inequities, over the course of two days, I was enlightened and my mindset was transformed in ways that I didn’t foresee. While I will not give a spoiler of the training (it is definitely worth investing in for yourself!), one of the ways in which it impacted me is in changing my view of community.

In wake of the movements that have arisen within the past few years, most notably among them Black Lives Matter, I Can’t Breathe, and others, I have found myself becoming increasingly interested in social justice for all groups. As I began to consider how I could play a role in furthering equity, again, my thoughts centered more on what I can do as an individual. How can I go on to obtain a PhD in social work to further social justice? How can I use my love for writing and art to raise social consciousness and spark action? All those wonderful first-person pronouns. And while I still have these goals, attending the REI helped me realize one critical truth: this work cannot be done alone. Dismantling structural racism and inequity is a complex, multi-faceted task that takes collective effort. While individual efforts are important, it is when we as individuals align and begin to move with one cadence that the most impact will be made. As noted in the REI Workbook received after the training,

We cannot be effective trying to go it alone; we must band together to increase awareness, study, learn, discuss, plan, and take action. Then we take stock, evaluate, learn more and plan further action. To be successful we must become part of a movement to change the paradigm of structural racism. Successful social movements in this country have always come out of community organizing at the grassroots level. We can become part of this movement (REI, 2015).

Those last two lines were profound for me. While we tend to uphold leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as individuals who led entire movements, in reality, the success was a result of ordinary people – in various organizations throughout many states – on the ground level. One individual could never do it all.

The above statement, while simple, goes against what I have believed for so long. Instead of “going it alone,” I am now challenged to become a part of the movement that is greater than myself. For me, this begins with connecting with the social justice community right here within my own physical community. In addition to my fellow social workers and social justice advocates at UNC, I seek to connect to the Organizing Against Racism (who hosted the REI training) community as well as the greater community of social justice groups doing work right here in Chapel Hill, the Triangle, and the state. And while I am not sure where my post-MSW journey will lead me, by getting connected here while I am still at UNC, I hope to set the foundation for a lifelong commitment to social change.

P.S.: For those who are curious, here are links to the Organizing Against Racism as well as the Racial Equity Institute sites where you can learn more about the organizations, workshops and trainings, as well as caucuses that meet regularly. It truly is a life-changing experience!



Posted in Getting Involved, Outside of the classroom

What are you doing after_____?

I would like to know who came up with that sentence and thank them for creating the most pressuring question a student could be asked! With my semester winding down, rather quickly (85 days and 18 hours until graduation), this sentence has been thrown at me like a world wind. Let’s admit it. Nobody likes this question. Not even the people who feel they have it all together because who really KNOWS? You can imagine that you’ll be doing this or expect to be doing that, but we can’t truly be sure until that thing is a reality. However, even with my dislike of this sentence, my hypocritical nature has allowed that dreaded sentence to form in my mouth and release its poison over my fellow classmates far too often since this semester started. Sorry friends….I just….just….sigh. I don’t know. I think people just throw it out as conversation filler. Yes, it is a terrible one.

At any rate, I bet you’re wondering what my answer to that question is. Well, I can tell you what I hope to be doing after graduation. I have been applying to career jobs like a mad woman in order to ensure I have options come May 10th. With my focus in social work on the macro track, I am very interested in impacting whole communities and whole groups at once. My target issue that I am most concerned with is college access and success; hence, I have been applying for jobs in that field. Most of the jobs I have applied for have been at universities, community colleges, a few high schools, and one or two community agencies all of which focus on college access. Did my interest shift while at the SSW? Almost. My first year, I became super fascinated with the material I was learning and it made me want to become a direct practice social worker and provide clinical services, to being strictly macro, to later finally settling on being macro while getting the School Social Worker license. Prior to enrolling into the SSW, I knew I wanted to be macro but through the knowledge learned while in school, I sought to obtain a license as well. What does social work have to do with college access and success? Everything! With my knowledge on how to connect communities and individuals with resources to improve their circumstances, direct practice skills in conversing with students and families, and knowledge of personal, family, and community factors that may inhibit academic attainment, my social work background will ensure I can become one of the best college access advocates in the field. I am really excited to put everything into practice with my first job position!

So keep in mind, rather you’re planning on entering school in the fall or in a few years, regardless of your age, sex, or gender, you will be haunted with the question: “What are you doing after ______?” You’ve been warned!

J – Mo

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SSWR National Conference and looking into a PhD!

As a part of my Research Assistantship and by the graciousness of the professor under whom I work, I was afforded an opportunity to be published on a poster that was presented at the 2014 Society of Social Work Research (SSWR) national conference this past January in New Orleans. Although I’m not yet completely convinced a PhD is in my future, it is something I think about a lot and this experience was really insightful.

If you have never been to a professional conference before (I hadn’t until last month), its full of busyness and professionalism. There a so many simultaneous events from poster and paper presentations to awards banquets and university receptions. It is just as much a networking and social event as it is a continuing education opportunity. If you’d like to look at the schedule to get an idea of the different events you can do so here: http://secure.sswr.org/2015-conference-home/preliminary-schedule/

I’m sure your wondering why this matters to you! Because its EXCITING! The innovation, the creativity, the passion and commitment are abundant in every attendee. Every presenter feels her/his field of research is the most interesting topic in academia, everyone is alive with learning and sharing and looking into how their research can be improved through tips or even collaboration with others around the country. This, to me, was worth the trip (site seeing all over New Orleans wasn’t so bad either). To know that this field is growing and more importantly that others who have been doing this work for years and years are still as passionate about it as I am was incredibly encouraging and empowering as an aspiring social worker.

No matter the type, be sure to take advantage of the opportunities around you. In my experience at the UNC School of Social Work opportunity is ALWAYS just around the corner, and most of the time you don’t even have to go looking for it!

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