Welcome to the Student Ambassador Blog!

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!

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Different Hats

I remember going to a UNC School of Social Work information session almost exactly two years ago, and Travis Albright talking about the many different hats an MSW allowed one to wear. Its one of the reasons I find social work so exciting and challenging and rewarding. In my placement at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities I get an opportunity to wear many hats- researcher, interviewer, case manager, therapist, group facilitator, planner and intern. Today I put on a few extra.

The day started with our Preschool Age Clinic Team, where we observe and help families of preschoolers with special needs. We help diagnose the child (or give a second or third opinion in some cases) and set the family up with resources to better help them on their journey. Along with one of the psychology interns, I interviewed the mother of a young boy who was looking for a diagnosis. While later discussing the case with other interns, one intern began having an allergic reaction to a vaccine she had gotten earlier in the day. So with that I became chauffeur to make sure she was ably to safely make it to the drugstore. Later in the day, while the psychologists were talking to the child’s mom, I babysat the little boy. Finally I ended the day in a meeting discussing a sex ed group I’ll be helping to run for adolescents with developmental disabilities.

It was a full day, and full of unexpected turns. But days like this are why I got into social work to begin with- to be of service in someway. And sometimes to be best of service you have to do a quick hat trick to make it all happen.

 

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The Cohort Effect- Earning an MSW with the Triangle DE Program

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much. “- Helen Keller

When I started the DE program last year, I wasn’t sure how I would adapt to working a full time job in addition to attending a full day of classes every Friday. When was I going to get assignments done? When was I going to do readings? Actually…when was I even going to make dinner?  A lot of worry came to me during those first few weeks of this new work/school balance.  The first thing I could do to feel better about my situation was put everything in my calendar, color code everything, and pace assignments and due dates ahead of time. I thought to myself, “surely this organization will help me keep my life together”.

But staying organized and proactive will only get you so far. What helped me get through that first year more than anything was being a part of a diverse cohort all sharing this experience with me. Here we are, all in the same classes each Friday (last year and this year) coming together after a week of hard work at our jobs, to coalescence and work towards something bigger.  Throughout the first year we celebrated birthdays, engagements, upcoming weddings, and even a birth! We also took care of one another through some pretty tough adversities and challenges. Our cohort has become its own little community, and I think of us as an endearing, unique little family.

de-cohort

20 of the 25 DE class of 2018 cohort with two of our incredible professors🙂

So whether you’ll be enrolled in the full time program or the part time program, just be sure that you have the chance to build relationships with your social work colleagues. These folks are a part of your community, and a part of your system of support. Reach out when you’re feeling overwhelmed, and know that you and your classmates will get through each semester…together!

love ya’ll!

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My PrimeCare Field Experience

Before I started UNC’s MSW program, I was interested in medical social work. My field placement for my foundation year was with the Nicotine Dependence Program’s inpatient program at UNC Hospitals. That experience introduced me to integrated healthcare. Through this model, people receive behavioral health services in medical settings, such as hospitals and primary care facilities. Since I was accepted into UNC’s PrimeCare program, I was able to explore integrated health field placements and ultimately chose UNC Family Medicine’s Care Management Program as my desired field placement for my concentration year!

My first couple of weeks at UNC Family Medicine have been jam packed with so many opportunities to shadow, go on home visits with one of the providers, and work with so many other healthcare professionals. At first, it was intimidating to approach some of the medical staff because they are all really busy and do not have that much free time, but everyone at Family Medicine is so welcoming and really enjoys having social work interns there! One highlight of last week was working with the first year medical residents during a workshop about suicide, depression, and anxiety. All of the social work interns worked in groups with the medical residents to work through case studies. Overall, it was a really great experience that showed how we can all work together to provide the best care for our patients!

I’m very excited about the upcoming school year and the many opportunities I will have at UNC Family Medicine! If you have an interest in integrated healthcare, reach out to me with any questions! I’d be happy to help!

Posted in Field Work

When I started at the School of Social Work a little over a year ago, I felt well prepared for the road ahead. I was ready and excited to dive in, and was comforted by the immense support offered by faculty, staff, and my peers.

So I was surprised to find myself wrestling with comparison. My mind was gradually filled with doubts of my own capabilities and feelings of intimidation.

Everyone has so much more experience than me, I thought. They’ve got a better handle on the workload. I’m not cut out for this.

I knew that these were wildly inaccurate thoughts, yet they managed to bounce around in my mind for an unfortunate amount of time. It wasn’t until a certain exercise in one of my direct practice classes with Marty Weems that I realized I’m not alone.

The topic for the day was learning to facilitate support groups. Marty, in her infinite wisdom and kindness, decided that we would use the rest of class to hold a support group for ourselves. She would lead it and we would have some space to talk about our grad school experiences.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that much, if not most, of my cohort was wrestling with this persistent bully that is comparison. Seeing that also helped me make sense of it: when you’re surrounded by bright, caring, strong individuals, it’s natural for you to question your own capabilities. It can make you blind to your own strengths, and it takes loving, intentional work to see them. And at the same time, the inherent truth in that struggle is that those strengths are surely present. 

 

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From Barranquilla, Colombia to Chapel Hill, United States of America

I was born in Barranquilla, Colombia, a city where happiness and rhythm fill every corner and every heart. My country of origin is simple indescribable, but for the purpose of this blog I’ll summarize it in: great food, joyous people, two ocean coasts, mountains, rivers and even a jungle. By this point you might be asking, “So how did you end up here?!” and “Why would you ever leave such a charming place?!”

Fair enough.

From an early age I think everyone around me could tell that I had a heart inclined towards helping others, and in particular, towards impoverished communities. I majored in Government and International Relations in Colombia, and my research mainly sought strategies to champion policy change as a means to aid those least favored. A couple of years after finishing college, I was offered a commendable job in Washington D.C. to support governments in their efforts of promoting effective labor and employment policies. Two suitcases, a one way-ticket, one Colombian passport and a soul thirsty to grasp the world were all my belongings when I crossed the Atlantic back in 2009.

I moved to the United States expecting to stay a couple of years; little I knew that I was going to stay for seven (and still counting!). While working in D.C. I had the honorable opportunity to travel and work with all governments of the continent. Furthermore, I also traveled to the Dominican Republic and the Philippines as a church volunteer during that time. Overall, the main lessons I learned from my time in D.C. were that charity is not the answer to combat poverty, and that governments cannot bolster economic and social development on their own. This said, finding new alternatives on how I could support the empowerment of low-income populations became a fixed desire in my heart.

Needless to say, my colleagues and friends were not surprised when I shared with them my interest in pursuing graduate studies in Social Work. In fact, I was encouraged by several of them! As I did my research on the top schools offering social work programs, I realized that somewhere along my time in the United States, this country had become my new home. Therefore, it was particularly easy to decide to stay around for a couple of more years. And so I did, and to be honest, I am enjoying it! I have to conclude by saying that the adventure-packed story on how I ended choosing Carolina (the school, not my name!) is definitely worth telling…in my next blog entry! In the meantime, thanks for reading!

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Step by Step: Applying

I am entering my 2nd year in the Winston-Salem Distance Education Program but it seems like yesterday I was applying and waiting for a response. There are multiple steps to the application process and it can be anxiety provoking if you are a perfectionist like I am. I thought I would make a list of what strategies I used while completing the application for Chapel Hill’s MSW program.

  1. Be sure to block out time to thoroughly look at the website. The MSW website is user friendly and has updated information regarding each part of the application http://ssw.unc.edu/admissions/masters/apply_now. Note that the process may be slightly different depending on which program you apply to: Advanced Standing, Full-Time, or Distance Education. The bullet points make it easy to follow along with the hyperlinks that give more details.
  2. Attend an information session. The time, date, and location of sessions for each program (Chapel Hill, Triangle Distance-Ed, and Winston-Salem Distance-Ed) are open to anyone that registers. This is a great opportunity to meet faculty, meet current students, and to ask questions.
  3. I set a goal for myself to have my application complete two weeks before Chapel Hill’s actual deadline. And I kept in mind that the people completing my references would possibly need time to work around their personal schedules. (Communicate with them as much as possible and provide them time to meet your “personal” deadline).
  4. Contact a mentor or colleague that would be willing to look over your personal statement and provide feedback.
  5. Attend the GRE workshop. This helped decrease my anxiety and the information provided was helpful with creating a study pattern and knowing what to be aware of while preparing for the test.
  6. Don’t be afraid to contact faculty if you have any questions.

Pace yourself as you complete the process and best of luck on becoming a TARHEEL!

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Finding Your Way

Years ago, one of my favorite undergraduate professors advised me to make sure and figure out  exactly what job I want to end up in before enrolling in any sort of graduate program. He said it was just fine to go into undergrad unsure of your exact direction, but his belief was that for grad school it was necessary to have a specific career in mind. In part thanks to his advice, I didn’t leap into a graduate program right after completing my bachelor’s degree, but instead worked in the nonprofit sector and then taught public high school for several years here in North Carolina. Along the way, thanks to these work experiences as well as some great volunteer opportunities, it became clear to me that I wanted to end up in a career providing therapy to children and adolescents. Once I knew that, it took very little time to determine that becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker would be one of the best ways to make this happen.

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Now, after attending UNC School of Social Work, I have found that one of the greatest features of the graduate program is that you don’t need to know exactly what job you want to do before enrolling. This is because there are so many useful experiences during your education that will help you figure that out, as well as so many different opportunities awaiting you after graduation. One of the most valuable components, in my mind, is that the program gives you hands on experience and skills that qualify you for a wide range of positions in the helping professions — whether it’s mental health, medicine, advocacy work, community organization, consulting, or the nonprofit sector in general. For my own path, I’m glad that I took my professor’s advice. I needed the time and work experiences I had to even realize that the field of Social Work was for me. But now that I’ve found it, I’ve also come to see that few other programs prepare you for a field with such a wide variety of careers to choose from: therapist, consultant, executive director, fundraiser, researcher, and more. For anyone passionate about social justice, mental health, and helping others, there are plenty of options awaiting you on the other side of that MSW degree!

Posted in Field Work, In the Classroom, Getting Involved, Academics