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!
In my “Implementing Evidence-Informed Practice” course, we were assigned readings pertaining to mindfulness and acceptance. The timing seemed perfect seeing that I just participated in a ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) conference in Charlotte through my field placement. The professor for this course collaborated with us (the students) and planned a field trip. We spent the class time at The Children’s Home, in Winston-Salem, and we were able to have class in their grass area near their farm. It was the perfect day and weather to intentionally practice mindfulness exercises. We engaged in partner activities, group activities, and discussed readings. I’m sure it will be a class that I won’t forget.
The term mindfulness has stuck with me since I started reading about it this semester. Society teaches us to move at such a fast pace and look forward to the future, that we often forget to be mindful of what’s going on in the moment. And on the reverse side, sometimes we get caught up in past experiences or mistakes. While participating in mindful activities that day, I intentionally focused on how the wind felt against my cheeks, how the sun rays gleamed on the left side of my face, and how the grass crunched under my feet as I walked. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Mindfulness is spoken about more and more within our profession and I feel that it is essential that we take part in it as growing professionals.
So pace yourself! It is okay to make mistakes and feel emotional at times. We are human and feelings are apart of our identity. Embrace yourself, your mistakes, positive and negative feelings…and every now and then…pause to be mindful in the moment!
As I continue in my second semester of my 2nd year as a distance education student (meaning I’m in year 2 of 3 years in my program), I am continuing to enjoy all of the additional professional development opportunities that the UNC-CH School of Social Work offers. An opportunity that as been a consistently rewarding one has been working with the student led health clinic, the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC).
The clinic runs every Wednesday from 6:00pm until the last client is seen (usually around 10-10:30). As social work student volunteers, we work on a team of 3-4 and break into different medical teams. In a typical evening, a volunteer can expect to see as few as 2 and as many as 5 clients, potentially even more! There is a brief training provided to model the assessment process and questions and a lesson in how to enter notes into a case management system called Practice Fusion. The evening flies by quickly and once you get started, you’re pretty much running from one clinic room to another practicing active listening, motivational interviewing skills, and quickly assessing to provide the optimal resources essential for that particular client.
Volunteering with the clinic has been an eye-opening experience for me and has helped me ignite my passion for integrated health care in social work. Since I started the program, I knew I wanted to pursue a career in either education or health background and since I have a good deal of previous education centered experience, I was fortunate for the opportunity to test out my interest in the health field. In fact, volunteering with SHAC helped me decide to pursue the PrimeCare grant program. I just found out last Friday that I was accepted into the program and am elated to continue learning more about the field of integrated health through my upcoming concentration placement and the integrated health coursework and workshops.
I believe that this experience is a unique opportunity specifically for UNC-CH Social Work students. After reading that SHAC is the oldest student run health clinic in the country, I knew that UNC’s program had rewarding opportunities that other schools I was researching just didn’t offer. I am so grateful for making the choice to attend UNC!
To see more about SHAC- Visit their website: https://www.med.unc.edu/shac
…and their Facebook page:https://www.facebook.com/UNCshac/?fref=nf
It’s the time of year most people dread, especially people graduating in May. Not only is life ridiculously busy, the question of “What are you doing after you graduate?” comes up almost daily. Second semester of second year brings some amazing things with it. I’m treated like a full fledged Social Worker at my field placement. I have a lot more confidence in my Social Work skills and knowledge. I don’t even mind the research class. But you know what comes with being a full fledged Social Worker? Full fledged paperwork. And research class? Full fledged research project. It’s a lot. It’s all stuff I am really enjoying…but it’s a lot. And you know what’s really hard to do when you’re crazy busy? Job hunt. So between my inner monologue that is on “what about after?” repeat, and the people around me asking it out loud, it feels like it’s just one more layer. So world out there, I’m looking for a job with people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities. Just putting it out there!
A few months ago, when I really needed it, a friend shared a poem with me by William Stafford called “The Way It Is”:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
I find comfort in this poem as I navigate our ever-perplexing political and cultural climate. I cling to that thread when I feel angered or saddened or paralyzed or sometimes all of the above. It’s hard to describe what exactly my thread is. It’s some combination of social justice and my spiritual foundation. I suppose you could simply say my thread is progress. For you it may be something else. Whatever it may be, the key is identifying it and holding onto it.
My favorite line in the poem is “You have to explain about the thread.” It reminds me that many do not understand why I choose to stick so closely to my values as a social worker, as an activist, as a feminist, as a woman of the Christian faith. And so sometimes I need to explain about the thread.
Stafford’s poem also reminds me of the gift of community – the dozens of individuals with whom I’ve learned and grown with in the School of Social Work over the last 18 months. They are, in many ways, holding onto the same thread of progress as I am. We are moving through our world together. This is not to say that we are all the same. We have our own perspectives, experiences, and motivators. But I think on a broader scale, we come together through this diversity and we do not have to go it alone. When it comes to this community, I don’t have to explain about the thread. Because they’re right there moving forward with me. They get it. And I am so grateful.
And there I was – sited in Room 500 looking forward to the first session of my 810 class. I was excited about finding out which of my former classmates I was going to see again and catch up with. It is always fun to re-connect with other students from your cohort and look back and remember how far we’ve come. Suddenly, I realized that there were at least five people in my class whose faces were familiar but from whom I didn’t know anything about. I knew a couple of names, but that was about it. It was then when I was reminded of how easy it is to miss opportunities to meet exciting people with unique stories and projects.
I cannot speak for all graduate schools, but I am very aware of the fact that our program comes packed with commitments that demand utmost concentration and dedication. Between classes, readings, papers, group projects, presentations, field practice, workshops and research assistantships, we don’t prioritize meeting people (face t0 face), least getting to actually know them. I admit that I didn’t have much motivation to invest time in building relationships that were not easily facilitated by activities such as group presentations. Nevertheless, this has not been the case for everyone. I have observed that some classmates have built strong relationships and spend time outside school enjoying them.
More than self-criticism, this is a reflection on the importance of investing in people around you. Yes, of course, keeping up with school work is pivotal. However, we have to be wise on how we budget our time so that we can accomplish our academic goals without missing the wonderful opportunities we are offered every day in our classrooms and outside of them. I know that is impossible to keep up with everyone’s agenda, but I want to take full advantage of this semester (which also happens to be my last one in SSW) and learn more about my fellow social workers that will continue to sit beside me every week for at least three more months. I believe that this is such a good practice because I doubt that in the “world of work”, that is post-graduation, things will be different. Surely it won’t be homework, but it will be deadlines, projects, trips, work-life balance, etc. Many matters will always be competing for our time and attention. What if we start practicing some hardcore budgeting today? I know I want, and I am thrilled for this learning this skill. It might not be included on our syllabi but it is not less important because of that.
When I was an undergraduate English major, I can tell you that I had no idea that Social Work would end up being my career field of choice. Nor did I know that some of my favorite authors, with their focus on the intricacies of human relationships and their exploration of complex social issues, had values that were well-aligned with Social Work’s code of ethics. Back then, I simply I knew that I was fascinated by the metaphors, loved the prose, and championed the protagonists’ causes.
Now, a number of years later, it looks rather inevitable that I would have ended up in this field. All of my favorite novels were contemporary works that examined the relationship between individuals and society, the dangers of oppression, the terrible power of discrimination. Such reading increased my understanding of the ways systems can work to disenfranchise and disempower, and added to my passion for helping and advocating for those who are most vulnerable to such forces.
It has been a winding path through volunteering and working in the nonprofit sector, as well as teaching in the public school system, that finally led me to Social Work. But looking back—especially at the authors I valued during those formative years—it is pretty easy to trace the route, though it did not always feel so clear along the way. As one of my favorite professors pointed out when I was attempting, rather futilely, to determine what exactly my career path would look like right after completing undergrad, “Sometimes you don’t choose the path. The path chooses you.”
It’s nice to know from experience that this wasn’t an empty platitude. There are many elements that go into helping determine the next steps in life, and in the thick of it, it can be challenging to see what it will all lead to. Nonetheless, it has become clearer that by returning to one’s core values, the ideas that inspire, you can end up where you’re supposed to be.
I was slightly intimidated by a course I started two weeks ago. My assumptions about the “Foundations for Evidence-Based Practice and Program Evaluation” course were that it would involve math and a ton of research. I allowed my anxiety to take over for no reason. The course is about evidence-based practice, evaluating them, and has a limited amount of math. The first assignment was intended to help me, as a student, become self-aware of my own beliefs based of off tradition, faith, or popular opinion. While completing this paper, I realized it tied into week one readings from my second course of the semester. The readings were about cultural competency and clinicians being comfortable with their personal identity.
Typing out these two papers and participating in class helped me to recognize my biases. My values, beliefs, and personal experiences have shaped the way I initially think about different topics. I understand that this does not make me close-minded, but it prompts me to gain perspective of other people that I interact with daily including clients at my field placement. I have learned the importance of processing my biases and challenges out loud. This helps me grow within the social work field and within my personal life.
Identity is important and I feel that is goes deeper than gender, race, ethnicity, sex, and age. You can’t leave out a person’s life story. That leads me to think that identity changes over time with every day experiences. A simple way to explain it may be…graduate school has caused me to do some “soul searching.” And as I grow more confident in my identity, it helps me to collaborate with clients versus acting off of my instinct. If you read this blog you may want to ask yourself “What is something that I value strongly that may cause me to be judgmental (or biased) towards others?” in hopes that you grow to a place where you can accept the differences in others, appreciate their story, all while being comfortable with who you are!