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!
This week marks one month in my generalist field placement. Unlike many of my classmates, I haven’t spent these past four weeks learning my way around a new agency…because I’m interning with my employer!
My path to the Triangle Distance Education (DE) Program was an unexpected one. I applied to graduate programs with the intention of completing my MSW in two years as a full-time student. However, after making the decision to attend UNC Chapel Hill, I found myself accepting a full-time job as an assistant director with the Carolina College Advising Corps and transferring into the Triangle DE Program (funny how plans change…).
The Carolina College Advising Corps is a college access program housed in the UNC Office of Undergraduate Admissions committed to increasing the number of low-income, first-generation, and underrepresented students who enter and complete higher education. We employ recent graduates to serve as college advisers in underserved high schools across the state of North Carolina. As one of three assistant program directors, I support a team of advisers, manage school partnerships, and oversee a number of projects, including adviser training. I am passionate about education equity and love being a part of this work. After only one year in the role, I wasn’t ready to give up my job and felt that I still had much to learn, so I was able to work with the Field Education Office and my supervisor to develop an employer based field placement.
An employer based field placement must provide new learning opportunities and meet the same objectives as as a non employer based placement. Last spring, I completed an Employer Based Placement Proposal in which I identified direct and macro practice field activities and articulated how these activities would fulfill social work core competencies. While there could be some overlap, these field work activities had to fall outside of my job description. My proposal was approved and I kicked off my new schedule in August. I still work my regular Monday through Thursday work week (Fridays are for classes when you’re a DE student); however, the last four hours of each workday are devoted to field work. My fieldwork activities involve adviser support and collaborative projects with the National College Advising Corps and College Foundation of North Carolina. I am still getting used to switching gears and becoming an intern every afternoon but feel I’m growing as a social worker and as an assistant director and look forward to seeing where this next year takes me!
As I reflect on my interests in global work particularly among the African diaspora, I attribute much of it stemming from being a first-generation American. This interest drove me to receive my bachelor’s in Global Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill with a minor in Arabic and then work in refugee resettlement for two years in North Carolina and in Kenya.
Being a first-generation American also meant that the expectations of pursuing a higher education were placed on me at a very young age. I had always imagined that my efforts in giving back to my family’s countries, Ethiopia and Eritrea, and its surrounding countries on the continent would be most successful with a medical or law degree, but that’s not entirely true. While receiving an MD or JD provides much accolades and aids many migrant communities and communities back home there are a plethora of ways to contribute to the global workforce with other graduate disciplines, especially social work.
When we think of some of the leading global organizations in our world such as the United Nations, World Health Organization, World Bank, World Trade Organization and etc. most often I think those fitting for these fields are those who are medical doctors, politicians and/ or diplomats but where are the social workers? Most often these global conversations surround human rights and socio-economic development so developing countries can be self-sufficient, so again I ask where are the social workers in this field?
Social workers are needed in the global context because of our desire and passion for social and economic justice, our working knowledge of social welfare programs and our understanding of systemic power differentials rooted in white supremacy and colonialism. This is why I chose social work as my professional degree.
The call for social workers in the global workforce is arguably crucial and as I think about it in context to the African diaspora I believe social workers can thoroughly advocate on behalf of vulnerable communities and those whose human rights are not being protected, provide illuminating recommendations when considering sustainable welfare programs, and offer grassroots, inductive research so it may inform income generating programs that’ll not only help the economy but help community members have a livable wage and way of living. My list of reasons on why more social workers are needed in the global context could go on but just know that I could give 99 reasons on why our current leading global network structures aren’t working and social work ain’t one.
Usually one of the first things that people learn about me is how much I love the town of Auburn, AL and Auburn University (I know what everyone else who knows me is thinking while reading this, oh no not again, enough about Auburn). But I can’t help it. I moved there when I was in 3rd grade, stayed after graduating high school, and went to college in Auburn. War Eagle.
After graduating college, I moved to Asheville, North Carolina with hopes to gain new experiences and get outside of my Alabama bubble. Though I love my hometown, I don’t love everything about where I am from. I knew that I needed to figure out what I was passionate about, and the mountains of North Carolina seemed like the best option to figure that out. During my time in Asheville I discovered what social work was (sadly I was oblivious to the wonders and many facets of what a social work degree can get you) and realized I wanted to go to graduate school. Logically, I looked up programs in the state of North Carolina and applied to two in-state, and one in another state.
When I was in high school, I learned of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, mostly because of the basketball team, but also because of the prestige that follows the name. Some of the students at my high school who were in the top of my class chose to attend UNC for undergrad. At the time that I applied, the UNC-Chapel Hill MSW Program was ranked in the Top 10 Schools of Social Work – now ranked in the Top 5! Because of that, I knew I had to apply. UNC had become my dream graduate school. My first thought was, what do I have to lose? I was banking on not getting in, but challenged myself to apply anyway. To my gleeful surprise, I did get in! And deciding to come to this program has been the best decision I’ve made for myself thus far.
The application itself can seem like a daunting process, but don’t fret! Lucky for all of you prospectives students, the GRE is no longer required for admittance!! If only that had been the case a year ago… Anyway, I often get the question, what part of the application did you focus on the most? And my answer would of course be the personal statement. This is the portion of the application where you have the opportunity to tell your narrative about what makes you want to be a social worker and how you will use this education going forward. My undergraduate GPA was mediocre, and I worried that would hinder my application as a whole. So, just focus on your passions and what you believe makes you a great MSW candidate!
As for the UNC MSW program itself, no University is perfect, and there are definitely things that can improve with any program. However, I have had the opportunity to form many diverse and fun friendships with fellow students and faculty. The professors that I have encountered are engaging, brilliant, and encouraging. Coming from someone who does not have a social work background, the classes have given me a fantastic understanding of what the social work profession is, what we can do, and how we make change in our communities and the broader world.
And, on top of all of that, I’ve even been convinced to become a (somewhat) Tar Heel fan and root for UNC Basketball – but still not over Auburn, because the SEC just means more… okay I’ll see myself out. 😉
*If you are interested in learning more about the professors at UNC SSW and their professional interests, or what classes are offered, check out the links below. In addition, if you would like to come visit, sign up for an information session!*
At the UNC School of Social Work, a variety of placements are available to students no matter their interests, or what they think are their interests. If you’re interested in an MSW, chances are you know that social work is a broad field that encompasses many kinds of work. If you’re like me, however, you may not realize just how broad.
I’m an Advanced Standing student in the Community, Management & Policy Practice (CMPP) concentration, also known as “macro”. I knew I was interested in a placement where I could serve as a resource to communities trying to build their assets and capacity, and target issues they deem important. When I met with my Field Faculty liaison (Robin Sansing, she’s so supportive!) to discuss my placement options, nothing really seemed to fit what I was looking for. Then Robin suggested the local Chamber of Commerce. What? I had never thought of a social worker in a Chamber of Commerce and I was skeptical about it. I didn’t have many other options, though, so I interviewed. It turns out, the Chamber is very interested in bettering the community and supporting all community members and is always looking for ways to mobilize the business community toward social change.
That’s the great thing about social work! With an MSW, your possibilities are endless. However, not everyone sees it that way. Many times, social workers are shoved into narrow categories of Child Protective Services, school social work, counseling, etc. Many people don’t know that social workers are needed everywhere, because social change and support is needed everywhere! At UNC’s School of Social Work, you will find many supportive faculty and staff who want to open those doors for you. I’m so thankful for Robin giving me the opportunity (and nudge) I needed to explore a new area of social work. Talk to a Field Faculty member about what options are out there, and don’t be afraid to try something different!
The Field Faculty office can be reached via Rebecca Brigham, Assistant Dean for Field Education, at (919) 962-6532 or email@example.com.
Year two as a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate student has begun! I am watching all of my peers from my social work cohort making strides towards their career goals through their second-year field placement (aka internship). As a dual-degree student, my second-year field placement won’t happen until the coming summer. Even though this setup has its perks, I definitely miss the growth, challenge, and experience of being in Field.
As I reflect on my first year at the School of Social Work (SSW), my experience in Field is the thing that most sticks out to me. Last year, I was placed at Frank Porter Graham Bilingue Elementary School (FPGB), a Spanish-English dual language school in Chapel Hill. I was so excited, especially since I am bilingual. In addition to the excitement, there was also nervousness. I had never worked so closely with such young kiddos! After talking with my Field Supervisor for the first time, I began imagining what my next year as a school social work intern would look like. Being the macro student that I am, I was pretty convinced that all I would be doing was micro/direct practice work. Here’s a list of what I thought I would be doing:
- Lots of Spanish-speaking sessions with individual students.
Yep, that was all I thought I would have the opportunity to experience in my first-year field placement – pretty limited and definitely not my strong suit. Here’s a list of some of the things I actually did:
- A few Spanish-speaking sessions with individual students and families in my OWN office!
- Complete family history interviews to support student education
- Sit-in on crisis interventions
- Create and facilitate programming for underserved FPGB populations
- Black Girl Magic Group: weekly groups to engage Black girls at the school, creating a safe space to talk about race, our experiences, empowerment, and identity
- I Am Black Excellence: an event created for the Black, African-American, African, and Afro-Latinx families to reflect and create poems around their families’ identity to share with the general school population to increase understanding
- Attend community meetings
- Attend district social work meetings
- Networking x 2!
- Even got to facilitate an activity at one of them!
Through each new experience, I discovered something new about the field of social work, myself, and the people I was working with. I discovered way more than I could have ever planned or imagined. Field pushed me in ways that I never expected. It challenged me to let go of my ego and expectations and to lean into discomfort so that I could grow, experience, and discover. Thankfully, I had my peers and professor from Field Seminar to guide me through those discoveries. During our weekly seminar, I was to be able to tap into the brilliant minds in that classroom to workshop ideas for unexpected challenges and share celebrations.
UNC SSW set me up with the PERFECT field of discovery last year. Most importantly, I discovered more space in my heart for another family. #ForeverAFlyingLion
One of the perks of living in the Triangle area is the food! With amazing new restaurants and award-winning staples, there is plenty to taste and experience. I moved to Durham from Raleigh a few months into my first year in the program. I knew I wanted to be closer to campus but, quite frankly I was not very familiar with all the wonderful growing food options in the area. Since then, I have done quite a lot of venturing out to find new favorite eats. I am originally from New York City and have been pleasantly surprised with the food scene in Durham, so if you are anything like me check these places out! Also, my partner and I run a food Instagram (@munch2good) – so head over if you ever need more suggestions!
Rose’s Noodles, Dumplings, and Sweets: Located on Gregson Street in Durham (just up the street from other staples like Saint James Seafood), there’s an amazing place to get some savory East Asian dishes and pastries. I personally really enjoy the ramen and the steam buns. If you are anything like me and have a sweet tooth PLEASE try their ice cream cookie sandwiches – you have to wait a while for them to soften but they never disappoint.
M Kokko: Located downtown Durham is a Korean restaurant that serves delicious dishes! Their location is small and there is usually a wait but it is one of my favorites! Try the ramen, the fried chicken wings, chicken sandwich, or the jjiajangmen (pictured below) which is a dish that consists of thick lo mein style noodles, black bean sauce, mushrooms and a fried egg.
Copa Durham: Copa is a Cuban restaurant located in Downtown Durham. Chef and co-owner Roberto Copa Matos brings the area rich and full flavors, as well as fresh ingredient direct from their farm. One of my favorites is La Havana Cuban sandwich and the croquetas! Croquetas are a very popular street food in Cuba, they resemble little fritters, that packs a lot of flavor for a savory side dish. I highly recommend you going for lunch or brunch!
*Croquetas seen above
La Vaquita: Is one of my go-to spots for some Mexican street tacos, gorditas, and tortas. It is a no thrills spot with plenty of outside sitting space and it is inexpensive! My favorites are their three tacos combo with rice and beans.
Saltbox Seafood Joint: Chef and Owner Ricky Moore opened up in the Little Five Points area and very quickly became a popular, trendy and YUMMY staple. He expanded his business in 2017 and the second location on Durham-Chapel Hill Blvd is where these photos were taken. Everything from the fried broccoli to the fresh and mouthwatering entrees was worth every bite! Tip: both locations get BUSY! so make sure to come with plenty of time, you wouldn’t want to miss out
Substance use is a ubiquitous and persistent phenomenon in our world, and as social workers we will undoubtedly interact with individuals and systems impacted by substance use. This is true for both macro social workers and direct practice social workers who don’t plan to practice in a traditional substance use treatment setting. Social workers shaping child welfare policy will continue to grapple with how to address child protection issues among families impacted by addiction. Licensed clinical social workers working with the rapidly growing older adult population, which is predicted to outnumber children by 2030 for the first time in U.S. history, will be at the forefront of new behavioral interventions to address the biopsychosocialspiritual impacts of substance use disorders in older adults. Specialized education and training in substance use and behavioral addiction is an invaluable tool for social workers in virtually every setting.
North Carolina in particular has been significantly impacted by the opioid crisis. A 2016 study identified four NC cities in the top 25 cities with highest opioid abuse rates in the U.S. – Wilmington (ranked #1), Hickory (ranked #5), Jacksonville (ranked #12), and Fayetteville (ranked #18). A CDC report released this month identified North Carolina as having the nation’s second highest increase in opioid deaths – a 22.5 percent increase from 2016 to 2017 compared to a nationwide increase of 6.6 percent.
According to the NC Substance Abuse Professional Practice Board, out of 100 total counties in the state of North Carolina, in 2016 there were six counties without a single LCAS practitioner, and 46 counties with between just one and eight LCAS practitioners. Those numbers are troubling considering the estimated 700,000+ North Carolinians in need of substance use treatment services. More social workers with specialized training in substance use are needed across the state, particularly in rural, under-resourced areas of North Carolina.
With all of this in mind, one of the qualities of UNC’s School of Social Work that really drew me in is that it is the only MSW program in all of Central North Carolina that offers a specialized substance use program that allows students to cut the standard two-year Licensed Clinical Addiction Specialist (LCAS) licensure process after graduation in half. UNC’s Substance Use & Addictions Specialist (SUAS) Program really works to integrate student learning with a combination of substance use-related coursework, clinical supervision, trainings, and field placements. After graduation, UNC SUAS students are able to apply for provisional LCAS-A licensure right away and can earn full licensure one year later after passing the required exam. Dually licensed LCSW/LCAS practitioners are highly desirable in the field because of their ability to treat both substance use and other mental health disorders in a comprehensive, integrated manner. Many social workers with dual licensure find that they are, in some cases, the only LCAS at their agency, making them incredibly valuable assets to their clients and teams.
Those of us in this year’s SUAS cohort are placed in a wide variety of settings – infectious disease clinics, integrated health care settings, assertive community treatment (ACT) teams, substance use treatment programs, older adult mental health programs, and more. One of the elements of the SUAS program that I am most looking forward to this year is monthly group supervision, which is an opportunity for all of us to come together for additional clinical supervision on top of what we each get individually at our field placement sites. It’s going to be a great chance for us to process the work we are doing in field, troubleshoot challenging situations, learn how different agencies are assessing and treating substance use disorders, bounce ideas off of each other, and absorb the collective wisdom of faculty and classmates with a broad range of skills and experiences.
To learn more about UNC’s SUAS program, click here!