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!
One of the many perks of being a student in UNC’s Graduate School of Social Work is having opportunities to learn outside of the classroom. Last summer, I attended Harvard Medical School’s 10th Anniversary conference titled Meditation and Psychotherapy: The Mind, The Heart, The Person. I was in awe of all of the incredible presenters at the conference, but was most excited to hear Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness Based-Stress Reduction (MBSR), as well as, Dr. Daniel Goleman, psychologist, science journalist, and author of Emotional Intelligence. Dr. Kabat-Zinn spoke of the benefits of mindfulness in our seemingly competitive, frantic, and overstimulating society. He explained mindfulness as, “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally.” Dr. Goleman spoke of the evidence to support the rewards of mindfulness and its effects on alleviating pain, anxiety, and depression. Dr. Kabat-Zinn and Dr. Goleman offered empirically supported research to show other benefits of mindfulness which include the reduction of rumination, more cognitive flexibility, relationship satisfaction, decreases in emotional reactivity, and increases to working memory capacity.
How often do we, as graduate students, rush through the demands of our daily activities without being focused on what we are actually doing? In our culture of multitasking, it may be difficult to find time for reading and writing assignments, completing internships hours, checking emails, and interacting via social media. Is it possible to put down all of the juggling balls in our lives for five or ten minutes a day and bring our awareness to the present moment? Before attending the conference, I would get preoccupied with events from the past and spend hours worrying about my future. It was not unusual for me to grab a snack without being aware of eating or wonder if I put conditioner in my hair after shampooing! Did I feed my dog before leaving for class? For me, mindfulness has been a powerful tool to quiet my bustling mind. Admittedly, I am a work in progress, but I am engaging in my practice of mindfulness and encourage you to do the same. Give yourself a break, power down, be still, observe, focus, notice, and breathe.
As we approach the middle of the semester, the pressures are ramping up. Multiple assignments are due in the same week, while our responsibilities in the field start to increase as well. Being right there in the middle of everything happening between classes, field, and personal life, can most certainly cause a bit of stress. A little bit of stress is inevitable, but too much stress can be really hard on the body, both physically and emotionally. When I start to get too bogged down with juggling all these responsibilities, I think about something one of my classmates recently shared, as it is great way to frame this time in our lives as social work students:
- This is temporary
- This is voluntary
- This is for a bigger goal (that degreeeeee!)
That being said, there’s still a lot of potential to feel stressed and overwhelmed throughout the semester, so I’ve compiled a list that has helped me over this last year and a half and can hopefully help you in whatever responsibilities you’re balancing.
- Reflect- What is it that’s causing the stress? You may need to meditate (see below for a few mediation links) or journal to get to the root of it, however once you’re able to identify triggers, you can move forward with finding solutions.
- Reframe stress by thinking about positive points– Negative thinking can exacerbate your stress, reflecting on what’s going well can help shift your thoughts into more positive patterns.
- Reach out to your social supports- Talking with other students about stress can be a helpful way to both process and relate. Likewise, reaching out to friends, family, and anyone else important in your life is also helpful.
- Management your time effectively- Prioritize and reprioritize as necessary. Make sure you have not only important deadlines on your calendar, but specific time carved out during the week to work on all of those assignments. Another part of time management is making the time to do the things you love, so make sure you’re making the time to take care of yourself as well (I say make because it’s not always possible to find the time).
- Make time to exercise – If you have particular exercises you enjoy, be sure to include them in your week. Exercise doesn’t have to be high impact and aerobic. Walking for 20 or 30 minutes can help you unwind or provide an energy boost in the middle of day.
- If you can’t change your circumstances, change your mind- How you interpret your situation has an effect on how you feel about it. Remember to focus on a growth mindset that allows you to learn in the face of adversity and be grateful for each and every experience that comes your way.
- Relax- Practice relaxation techniques including mindfulness, meditation, yoga, or massage. Stress can have very negative physical effects on the body. When you take the time to address those, you can find yourself in a state to better handle the full plate that is graduate school.
While you may not be able to avoid stress completely stay aware of your stress, what triggers you, and focus on the positive solutions. In just a matter of weeks, the semester will be done and you will have made it through!
It’s that time of year again. The time when the weather is beautiful and yet I’m stuck inside with mid term homework. Finally feeling comfortable in my field placement at the Carolina Institute of Developmental Disabilities, I’ve been taking on more case work, which also includes the never ending case notes. Between case notes, homework, reading copious books for Differential Diagnosis (an amazing class, but a lot of work), my job outside of school and trying to maintain some semblance of a social life, it feels like a lot of balls in the air. Luckily, UNC SSW is incredibly supportive and I feel like all of my teachers are really pulling for me to succeed and in my corner.
It being mid term means that it’s also time to start thinking about my next and last semester. How did we get here already! I feel like I’m just getting used to my current schedule and being back in school and now it’s getting to be the time to wrap things up. It is exciting to start looking forward to next semester’s classes. I’ll be taking disability policy, group work, behavioral interventions with children, and a research class. All of these will be so helpful with my field placement.
On a totally unrelated but happy note, I finally got a badge holder for my placement badge. It pins to my clothes and has a long pull out to make holding my badge up to badge readers super easy. It’s the little things!
Hey dear reader, it’s me again, Carolina. You might remember that in my last entry I shared with you how I ended up in Chapel Hill. Today, I get to share with you why I ended up choosing “Carolina”.
“So did you choose “Carolina” because of the name?”, people ask.
“Well, it certainly had something to do with it”, I reply with a smile.
I like to think that coming to Carolina was just meant to be; and as a Christian, I simply believe that God wanted me here. I first heard about the School of Social Work at UNC Chapel Hill at a Idealist grad fair I visited while living in Washington D.C. back in 2013. I remember liking the colors of the School and the name, of course. When the time came for me to consider my options for graduate studies, UNC was already in my radar. Nevertheless, I did what any responsible young adult would do, I filtered my options and had fun while at it!
The first thing I did in my quest to find the school-of-my-dreams was to make full usage of the Internet, just like any millennial. This said, I simply entered in google’s search box “Top programs social work”. Thankfully, back then (and I believe still today) US News & World Report kindly provided a reliable ranking of the programs in the country. I only considered the top ten in the list. Filter one: quality education, check!
My second filter was the result of a conversation with close friends in Washington D.C. that had moved to other cities in the States to pursue graduate studies. All of them mentioned that in my search I should strongly consider the geographical location of my future school. Taking into consideration that I was going to spend at least two years in what-ever-that-place was, they wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t be severely affected by extreme weather. Taking with full seriousness the advice received, it was surprisingly easy for me to rule out Ann Harbor, St. Louis and Seattle. Filter two: weather, check!
After applying my first two filters, the options I was left with were schools located in Los Angeles and Chapel Hill. I remembered that my good friend Andrew had live in Berkeley during his years as an undergraduate student so naturally I approached him during my quest (because Berkeley is only like 370 miles away from L.A. and it made perfect sense he was an accurate source, right? LOL). I asked him what I believe is one of the most contemplated questions I’ve ever asked anyone: “Hey, do you see me living in L.A.? Think I would be happy there?” Andrew simply answered, “I don’t think so. L.A. is big, remote, expensive, and it just might be over whelming for you.” Filter three: Happiness, check!
By now you’ve probably concluded that the option I was left with was UNC at Chapel Hill. You’re right! Nevertheless, the easiness that came with such discovery did not translated into easiness to enter the program. You might be surprised to learn that the first time I applied to UNC Chapel Hill, I was not granted an admissions offer. Shocking, I know. And yet, am here. “What happened?” you might ask. Well, I’d gladly share that story…on my next blog entry. Thanks for reading!
At the School of Social Work, we talk a lot about privilege…white privilege, male privilege, (temporary) able-bodied privilege, the privilege of being a member of the dominant faith group, etc. As privilege is often unconscious in nature, at least for those who have it, cultivating awareness of such privilege is crucial.
One type of privilege that I had never considered until a eloquent and convicting presentation by Laurie Selz-Campbell during my first semester was professional privilege. It did not take long for me to realize that I had benefited from this type of privilege numerous times. I am reminded specifically of when I did outreach work in Los Angeles with those who were homeless. If I was trying to get someone access to desperately needed services, just the mention of my role and affiliation helped me jump through inter-agency hoops that my clients struggled to overcome. Simply saying, “I’m an outreach worker with such-and-such agency” commands a certain respect and automatic assumption of clout.
The titles I have held give me power that those for whom I am advocating do not usually benefit from. I find myself walking a fine line between leveraging that privilege and making sure I am not disempowering who it is I am working with.
Discussing privilege can unsurprisingly put us on the defense, and it is important to approach the conversation with the same type of cultural humility we strive to embody in any number of direct practice scenarios. The goal is never to create an environment of shame or guilt, but rather an awareness of the systems in which we operate. Our aim should be reverent stewardship of the privilege we have been given as professionals, as well as an active fight for the empowerment of those we are trying to lift up.
I am grateful for faculty members such as Professor Selz-Campbell who do the hard work of raising awareness and subsequently helping to create sustainable, life-giving change!
One of the components of the fulltime MSW program that I have really come to value has been the unique setup of the first year of coursework. The first year – referred to as the foundation year – provides a strong base in macro social work (think systems-level interventions, social justice, community organizing, etc.) as well as direct practice social work (think working one-on-one with clients, therapy, etc.). Though on the surface, one might worry that this means you aren’t getting more direct practice therapy skills when you are taking macro-focused courses, or vice versa, it is instead extremely valuable that you become well-versed in both sides of social work before focusing on one of them during your second/concentration year.
As someone who has been primarily interested in direct practice, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find that the macro coursework from my foundation year has helped me to see (and more effectively analyze) the big picture when working with individuals. Macro social work is critical because it takes into account the various dynamics and systems that span far beyond the individual client, but which are influential over that client’s life, often times creating and contributing to the issues they face. From as diverse of macro issues as immigration policy determined at the federal level to health care decisions made more locally, there are many factors that are beyond an individual’s control that end up impinging directly upon their lives, changing their day-to-day reality, and shaping the stressors and challenges they encounter.
One of my key takeaways from the foundation year coursework has been learning how to look more comprehensively at the issues individuals face, examining all of the different factors at work in their lives ranging from the personal/interpersonal (direct practice) level to the larger/societal (macro) level. The foundation year ensures that a clinician is adequately prepared to take into account the big picture, making it possible to determine where and how to effectively intervene to help a client. Ultimately, whether you end up in a direct practice role providing individual therapy, or doing something more macro-oriented like managing a non-profit organization, it is essential to have a strong base in both macro and direct practice in order to be an effective advocate and leader. This is because individuals are never located in a vacuum – every client (and clinician!) is situated in society, and that means all of the dynamics and systems that come with it.
Dr. Marc Lamont Hill is an author, activist, and scholar who visited UNC earlier this year as the 2016 MLK Celebration Keynote Speaker. Last week, he visited another local university to discuss Black Lives Matter, the upcoming film Birth of a Nation, and the role of public intellectuals today. Dr. Hill recently released his latest book: Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond. During the meeting last week, he spoke on the notion of “nobodyness” and the politics of disposability within vulnerable populations. Several other key notes included the criminalization of mental illness, responses to state violence, over-policing in America, and the continued economic oppression that results from the U.S. class system.
As I reflected on the experiences and new knowledge presented by Dr. Hill, it reminded me of the role of social workers and commitment we have to promote social justice and actively speak out against injustice at all levels. I continue to see ways in which morality and ethical codes have a major impact on the social work profession as a whole, individual social work practice, and community advocacy. Regardless of macro or micro focus, social work calls for one to be aware of societal issues and systemic injustice in order to uphold cultural competency and cultural humility.