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!
Hi out there, I’m Nikki and I wanted to write a little bit about why I wanted to be a Student Ambassador to begin with. Reason number one? I LOVE THIS PROGRAM! I love my cohort, my professors, my advisors, my field placement and the people in it. I love the opportunity to make this program my own. I’ve wanted to be an ambassador before I knew there were ambassadors. When the opportunity arose to take a lead in how prospective students are introduced to the school, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I’ve already had the chance to talk to a prospective student over the phone, and being able to allay some of his fears while giving him some insite into the program itself felt great. I am really proud of the UNC School of Social Work and the students that it turns out. Being a student ambassador is my opportunity to give back to the community that I so cherish. It’s a way of cheering on the next generation of social workers and Tar Heels.
“When I wake up in the morning, and the alarm gives out a warning
I don’t think I’ll ever make it on time. By the time I grab my books
And I give myself a look, I’m at the corner just in time to see the bus fly by.
It’s alright ’cause I’m saved by the bell!
If the teacher pops a test, I know I’m in a mess,
And my dog ate all my homework last nite. Riding low in my chair,
She won’t know that I’m there. If I can hand it in tomorrow, it’ll be all right.
It’s all right ’cause I’m saved by the bell
It’s all right ’cause I’m saved by the bell.” – Scott Gale
YOU DID IT! You made it through the first day of classes! Whether you are just beginning or in the final stretch of your journey in UNC’s MSW program, you are one step closer to your goal today! Many of you may remember the popular TV sitcom, Saved by the Bell. As I was scurrying around this morning and preparing for the first day of my internship, I began to unconsciously hum the tune of this show. As silly as the lyrics may be, humming through my first day nervous jitters was a form of self-care.
Thankfully, we all made it through the trials and tribulations of high school that were portrayed in the Saved by the Bell series. However, we will still encounter similar issues during our graduate school years – arrive on time to class, complete assigned readings, and write lengthy papers. One thing definitely remains the same…we need the support of our peers! Always remember, that the UNC Student Ambassadors are here to provide a pat on the back, words of encouragement, attentive ears, and reassurance that it will indeed “be all right.”
We Recovery & We Advocate
My name is Donald McDonald and I am a person in long-term recovery from addiction, which means I haven’t used alcohol or other drugs to make it through the day in nearly twelve years. As a result, my wife can count on me and my children are proud of me. I got an awesome job as a programs director two weeks before I graduate from the best social work school in the world. I am surrounded by friends and allies, and I have committed my life to service. I got well then I got better than well – I transformed from sociopath to social worker. I’m telling you this because I am not ashamed and I intend to advocate for an end to discrimination against my people.
Why I am here:
Thus far, the key players are framing problems with the Controlled Substance Reporting System (CSRS) around stopping substance “abuse” and diversion and stopping “doctor shopping.” We should find that notion hard to reconcile. We should find it offensive. As we know, over 5,000 North Carolinians have died from prescription opioid overdose since the CSRS was implemented – enough casualties to fill the entire Progress Energy Center for the Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh… and the front lawn. These are our family and friends.
Lichtin Plaza (The Lawn): 273
Kennedy Theater: 150
Fletcher Opera Theater: 600
Maymandi Concert Hall: 1700
Raleigh Memorial Auditorium: 2227
5,000 Dead North Carolinians
Around half of DEA licensed physicians are registered with the CSRS. Current proposals ask that the number of registered users be “significantly” increased. Compromise…
Would we be in a position of compromising if folks were recommending a partial response to the Zika virus? No. We are in this position because we are recovered drug addicts trying to advocate for dying drug addicts. It’s not stigma. It’s discrimination.
This time last year, I was counting down the days until my undergraduate BSW graduation, and celebrating the fact that I was accepted into UNC’s MSW program and, officially “onto something bigger and better”. Though I was excited, I often questioned whether or not I was making the right decision. Should I have tried to find work and taken a gap year? Had I learned enough to keep me from sinking at UNC? Would Advanced Standing be too fast to truly learn what I need? Will I be able to afford graduate school? Will I be able to get a job after graduation? Ultimately, will this ALL be worth it?
When I began classes at UNC, I realized what an incredibly diverse group of students I was being given the opportunity to work with. People who had families and children and worked full-time jobs, people who had travelled all over the world, people who had started non-profits, and people just like me- students who were coming from academia and were new to the practice side of social work. I soon realized just how incredible my experience at UNC was going to be. Due to the diverse group of students, I was able to gain so much more from my classes and overall learning experience. Discussions were lengthy and dense, and professors were supportive of our conversations.
As the semesters moved along, I felt continuously supported by the School in all of my work and aspirations. I had made contacts and connections, and by the Spring I was networking with recent graduates, not-so-recent graduates, and relevant community members. Though I am a commuter student who isn’t particularly involved on campus, I felt like a “real” member of this School. I was soon feeling more confident in my clinical work at my field placement, as well as confident in my clinical knowledge. Now, with graduation only a few short weeks away, I am able to see a tremendous amount of growth in myself as a professional, a student, and an individual citizen over the past year.
I wrote this blog because I wanted to give newly admitted students, as well as prospective students, a glimpse into the mind of an almost-MSW. This is the time of our MSW education where we are most stressed, and feeling the pressure of not only graduation, but also the next phase in life- starting our careers. However, I need to let you know that IT IS WORTH IT. It is all worth it, every little bit. When I got an email offering me my dream job with a pretty dreamy salary, I first realized that it was worth it. When I was able to go see my parents and tell them about my new job, and let them know that all of their hard work had paid off, it was definitely worth it. When I was able to go home that night and tell my soon-to-be-husband that in only a few months, our hard work spanning over 6 years of education will have finally ended in a career for myself- IT WAS WORTH IT. Last, when I finally got up the nerve to log into my student loan online account and total up the monthly payments- and realized that I can afford them- I took a deep breath and said to myself, “I can do this- it was worth it”.
No matter what stage of your life you are in, and no matter what your worries are…take a deep breath and remind yourself that it will all be worth it. Reach out to people, know when to ask for help, and take care of yourself first. If you are able to do these things, you will reach your goals and find that all of your hard work and determination to succeed will eventually pay off.
Monday, April 4th, was a long, exciting, nerve-racking, fun, exhausting, unforgettable day in the life of this soon-to-be MSW grad.
6:15 – Roll out of bed and get ready. Business casual today–meeting potential employers at UNC SSW Career Day. Pack a change of clothes, including lucky UNC t-shirt.
6:56 – Catch my carpool from Winston-Salem to Chapel Hill with my classmate Chad. Lots of chatter on the way about upcoming graduation, job prospects, and the evening’s NCAA basketball championship game.
8:30 – Coffee. Brain waking up.
9:00 – Health Policy class. Videos and discussion of some incredible people and organizations that are increasing access to health care for disadvantaged people in the Triangle and in other parts of the country.
10:30 – No Program Evaluation class today. Time to check email, print articles, and get geared up for Career Day. Collar straight? Check. Résumés? Check. Breath mint? Check. Let’s do this.
11:00 – Career Day sign-in, name tag placement, and a quick review of the list of organizations represented and where they’re set up. Three of particular interest, one on the third floor, two on the fifth. Commiserate with a classmate about how nerve-racking the meet-and-greet process is for introverts like us. “Whose turn to talk is it?” Reminded by SSW staff member what Career Day is about: making connections and impressions. In fact, the positive impression she made at Career Day helped her land her first post-grad job.
11:03-11:56 – Smiles, handshakes, questions, conversations, résumés, business cards…whew! Spoke with representatives from two organizations where I’ve recently applied, expressed my enthusiastic interest, hopefully attached a face and a positive impression to my name. Possibly laid the groundwork with a few others as well.
Kids and families, mental health, immigrants and refugees, military and veteran services, school social work, substance use treatment, older adults, social services, and on and on. Whatever your professional interests, there was someone at Career Day for you to check out. And they’re all there because they want talented social workers and know where to find them. A few of the organizations didn’t even have current openings; they just want to be well-positioned within the UNC MSW community for when they do!
11:57 – Professionalizing done. Head to the car to change into my comfy shoes and lucky t-shirt.
12:10 – Chick-fil-a.
12:36 – Chat with a fellow MSW student with whom I’ve had a class or two but never a conversation. She’s from Georgia, has done international work related to human trafficking, and is determined to figure out what the Hebrew tattoo on my right wrist means. Good luck with that. J We compared results on a Differential Diagnosis exam and talked about post-graduation plans. Last month of grad school, still meeting interesting, enjoyable people who want to change the world for good.
1:06 – Find a spot to read for my next class. End up mostly chatting with a couple classmates about Career Day.
2:00 – Groups class. Marilyn Ghezzi is such a knowledgeable and engaging professor—one of my favorites! If there’s a clinical class offered at UNC SSW, she’s probably taught it (diagnosis, brief treatment, DBT, groups, trauma treatment—you name it). Not only a clinician extraordinaire, she’s extremely accessible and loves meeting with students. In preparation for a post-graduate fellowship interview last month, she was glad to meet with me to offer her insight into what experience and knowledge I should highlight in my interview. (Dr. Michael Lambert, an equally engaging professor, offered his counsel as well.)
4:44 – Class dismissed. Game time. Catch up with Chad to figure out our pregame meal logistics. Where should we eat to maximize our mojo for the game? We have to do our part!
5:27 – Burgers and vanilla Cokes (from the fountain, not a bottle) at Sutton’s Drug Store, a Chapel Hill institution.
6:10 – Recognize a guy in Sutton’s that we knew from undergrad at UNC (many moons ago). Spent a few minutes reminiscing about old dormmates and road trips to the Florida. Sutton’s has been his pregame routine for the last month, and we’re undefeated over that period. He’s doing his part, too.
6:27 – Head to the Dean Dome to watch the game. Joined by Chad’s wife and another classmate. Line up outside with a sea of Carolina-blue-clad students and fans, buzzing with anticipation. Try to photobomb as many selfies as possible.
8:00 – Students admitted into the Dean Dome. Spend a few minutes finding the optimal viewing spot. End up in Section 109, Row 3.
8:55 – Building is filling up, band is playing, crowd is cheering. This is getting real.
9:19 – Tip-off of the 2016 NCCA Men’s Basketball National Championship Game. Heels vs. Wildcats. Not a person seated in the building.
9:20-11:25 – Mostly an adrenaline-fueled blur of joy, frustration, determination, anxiety, despair, hope, and exhilaration. A 10-point comeback in the waning minutes of the game, capped by a contorting, double-pump 3-pointer to tie the game, by one of the grittiest guards to ever wear a Tar Heel jersey. The building explodes with new life! Just 4.7 seconds left then we’re going to overtime. “But 4.7 seconds is an eternity in basketball time,” my gut reminds me.
11:26 – Stunned silence. My lucky t-shirt failed us. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins knocks down a buzzer-beating, game-winning, 25-foot jumpshot to break the hearts of Tar Heel nation. I will never forget the sight of Marcus Paige, who almost single-handedly willed us back into the game, weeping as he walked off the court. He gave everything he had, and it was all gone in 4.7 seconds. What a heart-rending way to end such a special career at UNC.
11:32 – Shake off the disbelief. Begin the long walk back to the car, followed by the long drive back to Winston-Salem. Lots of sighs and what-ifs and positive reframes. “At least it was a great game.” “What a comeback we made.” “Villanova is a great team, and they deserved it.” Impossible not to be proud of our guys, despite the heaviness of disappointment.
1:06 – Arrive home. Quick glance at the mail. Brush teeth. Roll into bed. Lots to do tomorrow and the next four weeks. Thankful to be a part of such a vibrant university community, and a student in a program so engaged in the molding of outstanding professionals and the pursuit social justice. Special day over, exciting things ahead.
Since coming on board as an ambassador for the School of Social Work, I have received countless emails from prospective and recently accepted students asking for my feedback about UNC’s MSW program. Not surprisingly, many of these questions end up being the same. So, I’ve compiled a list of Frequently Asked Questions!
- Why did you choose UNC?
I applied to five MSW programs all over the country. UNC initially appealed to me because it was ranked as one of the top 5 MSW programs in the country. I liked that the class sizes would be similar to what I had experienced in undergrad, but that I would still be able to take advantage of the resources available at such a prestigious, big university. I liked that this area of North Carolina was small while still being vibrant, was fairly affordable for a full-time student, and – lets be honest – the great weather didn’t hurt either!
- What is the best part of the program?
My favorite part of the program has been how accessible the faculty are. So many of them are renowned experts in their fields, and I never expected to be able to forge such strong relationships with them. I truly feel that they are invested in my MSW experience, and want me to succeed.
- What is the biggest downfall of the program?
The biggest downfall of the program has been that there just aren’t enough hours in the day to experience everything. There are so many field placements I wish I could have had, multiple elective classes I would have loved to take, and plenty of additional lectures and extracurricular activities to get involved with. There are ways to squeeze some extra opportunities in – such as taking additional classes over the summer – but never enough time to do it all.
- What has most surprised you about the program?
The biggest surprise has been how the political climate of North Carolina has added value to my experience at UNC. As a public school in a state where the legislature changes hands fairly often, we get to see first-hand how new policies and changes impact the community. It has provided a real-world context to my education that I don’t feel I would have gotten at any other schools I applied to.
- What have your favorite classes been?
My favorite classes have been Social Work Policy (a foundation-year course), Differential Diagnosis, Motivational Interviewing, Social Work at the Interface of Mental Health & Criminal Justice, and Child Welfare: Practice and Perspectives.
- Are there a lot of options for field placements?
It honestly feels as though there are unlimited options for field placements. There is a large database of placements that other students have previously had. If you’re interested in an agency that hasn’t previously had an intern, Field Office staff are great at working to forge a partnership and trying to get you the experience you’re seeking.
- What else is there to get involved with?
(Disclaimer: These are just a few of the things I’ve been involved with during my time at UNC, and is by no means a comprehensive list!) I highly recommend getting involved with SHAC, the oldest student-run health clinic in the country. SHAC takes volunteers one night a week, and is a great way to practice talking to clients alongside other UNC students. SoWoSO is the student organization for the School of Social Work. They host social events, speakers, and other opportunities for graduate students. They also have leadership positions available for rising-Concentration year students. There is an active social justice movement on campus that involves undergraduate and graduate students, and also includes community members in their events.
- What is the dynamic of your cohort?
My cohort is a great group! There are about 100 of us preparing to graduate, and I’ve been in class with all but a handful since I started the program. I tend to spend time with a smaller group of folks, but definitely feel that I can say hello or start a conversation with anyone I pass in the building. The thing I appreciate most about my cohort is how many different experiences my classmates bring to the table. Not only did we all have varying paths prior to coming to UNC, but our field placements add another layer of difference that we’re able to share with one another both in- and outside of the classroom.
I hope that this post will be helpful for anyone interested in the program, contemplating accepting the offer to attend UNC, or who may just be nervous about getting started this fall! Don’t forget, if you have any other questions, just email myself or another ambassador – we are always happy to help🙂