For All my Policy Nerds…and Those Who Love Conferences

The week before Thanksgiving, I attended the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Impact 2017 Conference in Washington D.C. with my field placement (The NC Justice Center). The conference brought together policy advocates and analysts from around the country to discuss pressing public policy issues and strategies on how to better engage with stakeholders. If you have never heard of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities check out their website: https://www.cbpp.org/

They provide invaluable information and analysis on the effects of federal and state policies. They support other groups doing similar work, such as the NC Justice Center.

The conference was impactful, as the title of the conference suggests. The sessions at the conference were heavily focused on race equity and its relation to policy creation, implementation, and engagement. Some presenters spoke better than others about what race equity means and how we can strive for it in all aspects of our work and lives. The sessions I attended were titled: Getting Started: Bringing a Race Equity Focus to Community Engagement; Identifying and Engaging Legislative Champions; Taking an Intersectional Lens to Our Work: Gender, Race, and Economic Security; and Why Confronting Our Tax Code Requires Confronting Systemic Racism Head-On. Below are a few pictures of the conference. The man speaking in the photo is Dr. Michael Eric Dyson. His most recent book is Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America. He is one of the nation’s most renowned public intellectuals and writes on the sociology of the Black experience in America.

During my field placement, I have been learning a lot about how taxes and budgets play a critical role in shaping effective social policies. Taxes and budgets are also used as means to take away social programs that benefits households with low and moderate incomes. The conference reiterated this connection. As social workers, we cannot talk about changing social policy without talking about economics. Unfortunately, I feel that social work education is lacking in this area. Through my field placement, I have been able to somewhat fill the void of knowledge and discussion about budgets and taxes and feel that I am a more competent practitioner with my increased understanding of economics. As the semester comes to an end, I look forward to the additional opportunities I am offered through my field placement.

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized

Remember the why

So I am coming close to the end of the semester and running a little low on sleep, motivation, patience, and positivity. There is a mix of emotions in the School of Social Work as we prepare for a small break before coming back and cramming in the final projects, presentations, and papers. As an Advanced Standing student that has been going strong from undergrad all the way through the summer, I am beyond excited for the upcoming five weeks of vacation between semesters. Even though I would do just about anything to blink and be done with the fall semester, I have to be careful not to wish the days and assignments away. I have been counting down the hours left in field, excited for the time that I do not have to be at field at 6:55am, however I realize that maybe I am not taking in these wonderful experiences while I have them. I am a person that is constantly focused on the future and I think about five years in advance. The Advanced Standing cohort has a very limited amount of time at UNC. While winter break, and ultimately graduation, weigh heavy on my mind, I am using this time to reflect on making the most of my MSW experience. In order to best serve others, I have to remember the why, or the reasons that brought me to this profession. When the to-do list gets long and we stop taking care of our physical, mental, and emotional needs, it is difficult to do our job well. In these moments, I am trying to remember the issues that I care about, the students I work with, and the change I am ultimately working towards. I need to look for little things each day that bring me joy and refresh my soul. I must remember my purpose, remember the little things, and remember the wonderful break throughs. This is what keeps my tank full, and helps me to “keep keeping on”.

This reflection is really just me thinking out loud, but hopefully it helps others that may be in the same boat or feeling a little at the end of their rope. Never forget to do the best you can with what you have, and to love yourself through it all.

Posted in Uncategorized

Social Work Seeping into Personal Life

Prior to starting in the School of Social Work, I had been working as a doula (a person who supports a birthing person during the process of labor, childbirth, and the early postpartum period) for about 2 years. I noticed very quickly that the skills I was gaining as a social worker would have direct benefits in my practice as a doula. In fact, I found myself thinking that I had basically been an un-regulated social worker for 2 years, providing support, coordinating resources, and helping parents navigate complex healthcare and social systems.

Throughout my social work education, I have found that my systems-understanding and communication skills have markedly improved. In working with my clients, I find myself framing our prenatal visits with flavors of motivational interviewing. I now have a basic understanding of CBT and other therapeutic modalities, and am finding this context helpful in understanding the challenges and decisions parents are making throughout the prenatal, perinatal, and postpartum periods.

When I decided to pursue an education in Social Work, I truly did not realize how much these skills would be applicable to my other passions and my personal life. I am a better communicator and listener as a direct result of my social work education. Some of that comes from my classes and courses, but much of it comes from my field work – learning from other skilled social workers- and from my classmates who bring such rich skill and experience. I know that my personal relationships are benefitting from my social work experience, but I see the benefits most profoundly in how I work with my doula clients. I am thrilled to have this outlet to apply and practice my social work education.

Posted in Outside of the classroom

I <3 Self Care

So it’s November 11, there’s less than one month left in the semester, and I have 8 big assignments due before then, 5 of them papers. The weather has finally turned appropriate for November and I finally turned the heat on for the first time. The leaves are gorgeous, the sun is out, and I am inside, writing a paper. This is the reality of graduate school, I spend a lot of my Saturday’s inside reading, writing, and working. My Saturdays are (usually) devoted to school work so that on Sundays I can focus on the best two words I have learned in graduate school: Self Care. Self care, something impressed upon me in virtually every single class in social work school, is an amazing opportunity to give yourself a break, watch some netflix, hang out with friends, or in my case, take a hike, all in the name of good ol’ R and R.

Fast forward to Sunday, my computer had a nice chance to gather some dust (except for writing this blog post,) because I was no where near it! I was with my partner and our pup on top of a mountain! The leaves were gorgeous, the weather crisp, and the fresh air greatly needed. While I still have to finish and edit my paper before it’s due tomorrow, I feel refreshed and ready to tackle this assignment, and the end of the semester.

If there’s one lesson I have learned in graduate school that I would impart upon you, and anyone else I meet, it is the importance of self care. Take time to take care of yourself, as this inspirational quote says, “Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.”-Etty Hillesum. And as they say in social work, if you want to help others, you must help yourself first.

Have a great week y’all! Do some self care, and enjoy this photo of Phoebe on a mountain.

 

Posted in I ♥ North Carolina, Outside of the classroom

Crossroads

It is the critical time for my cohort in which we are tasked with declaring our concentration. The two choices are “Direct Practice” or “Community, Management & Policy Practice(CMPP)”; CMPP is often referred to as “Macro”. My aspirations when I entered this program were very concrete. Upon entering the social work program my ambitious future goal was to open a hospice home within North Carolina’s state penitentiary. With that goal in mind, I had no problems deciding from the beginning that I would declare CMPP so that I could learn the skills essential for such a great task.

A wonderful part of Chapel Hill’s Social Work program is that you are exposed to so many unique needs, populations, and existing services through readings, lectures, and guest speakers. However, for me it presented a great challenge, I went from one specific goal, to an array of interests. As imagined, this caused me to question my professional goals. I learned from an UNC advisor that North Carolina has an existing hospice home in one of its prison’s. This was great to learn, and is what really shifted my plan from CMPP to direct practice, so that I can learn evidence based practice and skills to directly serve this population as well as others facing end of life, even outside of the prison system. I decided that I would like to pursue a career as a grief counselor, and just last week I formally declared my concentration as direct practice.

It’s amazing how this program helps you to evolve in just a brief time. I love that UNC School of Social Work requires core courses in both concentrations. It really helps students to see the value and similarities of the two types. In fact, it enhances the realization that we as future social workers need both skill sets to be successful, which is why I plan to utilize my elective courses to have a good blend of both. It’s been really inspiring, exciting, and fun to brainstorm and exchange future goals with my cohort as we declare our concentrations and really begin to plan for our concentration year of study.

Below are two helpful links on UNC School of Social Work’s website to better understand the two concentration types as well as the curriculum offered:

http://ssw.unc.edu/programs/masters/CMPP

http://ssw.unc.edu/programs/masters/mswcurriculum

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Application Season is Upon Us!

It’s application season! In the past month I have seen an increase in potential students emailing me with questions about the social work program here at UNC. For this blog post, I am going to provide answers to some of the most common questions I am getting via email and in student interest sessions.

  1. How available are faculty, really?   Our school of social work has only graduate students, so faculty are not dividing their time between undergraduate and graduate students. Classes are small (I would say 30 people is a large class). I have found every faculty member I have interacted with to be responsive and interested in students’ development. Faculty always quickly respond to my emails and are eager to help with school or professional development.
  2. Why did you choose UNC for you MSW?  I knew I wanted to do an MSW and an MPH with a focus in maternal and child health. UNC has an amazing dual degree program, and the school of public health has a great maternal and child health department. That combined with both program’s stellar ratings were big reasons I wanted to become a student here. When I was looking at schools I immediately eliminated anywhere that I knew I wouldn’t want to live. I had heard good things about the Chapel Hill-Durham-Raleigh area and felt that there would be plenty to do here.
  3. How does the fieldwork placement happen?  As a full-time 2-year student, the first year your input is pretty minimal, which I actually appreciate. There was an in-depth survey of our interests and goals, and an interview with a field faculty member to discuss placement options. We have a full-time field staff here which is unique for social work schools. Those faculty know the agencies in this area like the back of their hands and the program is unbelievably organized. The second year you choose your top choices for placements and the field faculty works to get you one of those top picks. It’s a VERY organized system and people are happy with their placements.
  4. How feasible is it to work during the full-time program?  Working part time is common among students in the program, but it is not without stress. Several students have research assistantships with faculty in the school of social work. This is convenient for many reasons, not the least of which is that there is often flexibility in scheduling which makes this more doable. I work about 5ish hours per week right now. Last year I had a research assistantship and worked 10 hours per week. It was stressful, but manageable. Whether or not to work while in the program is a very personal decision, and different students find different feasibility with this. Having an accommodating manager is useful if you are planning to work while in the program.
Posted in Uncategorized

What am I doing?

Grad school is hard. Between classes, work and field, it’s easy to feel overstretched. There are days when I come home and ask myself, “Is this worth it? Should I have come back to grad school? What in the world am I doing?” Fortunately, those days are few and far in between but when my battery is running low, those voices of uncertainty can begin to creep in. It’s at that point that I have to take a deep breath and remind myself why Carolina and a MSW were right for me.

After college, I had the opportunity to work as an AmeriCorps VISTA at a community resource center in DC. Though my main job was coordinating trainings and pilot programs, I also worked one on one with community members to work on their goals. After my first couple of months, it became abundantly clear that if you wanted to get something done, you called a social worker. Wanted to find a substance abuse treatment program? Call a social worker. Wanted to lobby for affordable housing? Call a social worker. Wanted to create a new community program? You guessed it, call a social worker. I was inspired by the social workers I saw partnering with members in the community to create major individual and societal changes. Additionally, social workers follow their own code of ethics (check it out! LINK) that values social justice, the dignity and worth of individuals and the importance of human relationships. I had found my people and I knew I wanted to go back to school to officially become part of their tribe.

The next step was deciding on a school. I asked family and friends, read online articles and made pro-con lists. Nothing however compared to coming to visit. I decided to drive one afternoon to see campus and attend an information session. Secretly, I hoped I would really hate it so I wouldn’t have to leave my home state. But I loved it. I was impressed by the amount the faculty really cared about and invested into the students. I was inspired by the work students were doing in their classrooms and their field placements. And I was won over the beauty of the state and the little piece of heaven I found in Carrboro. I liked it so much that I applied even after bombing the math section of the GRE.

UNC’s School of Social Work is not a perfect institution by far and the field of social work is still shifting to meet the needs of the community and populations it serves. However, I am happy I decided to move to North Carolina and pursue my MSW. I know when I graduate I will have the skills and knowledge I need to start a career in social work and I can’t wait to get back out in the field.

Posted in Academics, I ♥ North Carolina, In the Classroom