Out of the Classroom and On the Court

If you are from North Carolina and into basketball, you can usually ask one question that sparks a conversation. And that question is “Duke or Carolina?” Then one of these three things happens:

  1. You end up talking to a person that cheers for the same school as you.
  2. You meet a rival and the “trash talk” begins.
  3. Or you meet a random NC State fan.

I was raised to be a Tar Heel fan thanks to my Dad! I’ve watched the Tar Heels play basketball games on television for years but don’t remember fully understanding the game until I started playing myself around the age of nine. The Duke vs. UNC game is one of the most talked about rivalries in college basketball. I’m usually out watching the game or at home yelling at the TV. But this year, I had the opportunity to sit in the student section and watch the Tar Heels take down those blue devils along with my classmates. And it’s an experience I will never forget!

There was some driving involved to get to this game. I left my internship in Greensboro, to attend the game in Chapel Hill and once the game was over I drove back so that I could be present and ready to engage with clients the following day. My motto is “self-care is the best care” and I was excited about having a social night. But planning and prioritizing are important to me. I knew that I would not get any work done the night of the game so I worked ahead during the beginning of the week.

What I experienced at that game was indescribable. The level of Tar Heel pride is unmatched! I’ve attended several basketball games but the energy that I felt during that game was a indescribable. I paid attention to the entire game but I walked away feeling like I missed so much due to the excitement, screams, cheers, laughs, and anxiety provoking moments. The Tar Heels came out on top and I had an amazing time celebrating with future social workers!


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Macro AND Clinical Social Work: Figuring Out a Possible Balance of Both


One question I hear from students thinking about enrolling into a social work program (*cough, cough* the question that I was asking and sometimes am still seeking answers to) is this: If you choose the Macro social work track, can you still do direct-practice/clinical work? (or viscera)

I am currently a dual degree student in the MSW/MPH program on the macro social work track (aka the Community Management and Practice Concentration). My courses, especially those in public health, focus on a system approach and population-based perspective to addressing adverse health outcomes and social inequalities. I am a firm believe in working on ways to prevent conditions that perpetuate health disparities among the undeserved and historically oppressed.

AND, I also aspire to be a clinical social worker at the end of the (long) day – to be a therapist for immigrant adolescents/families who have experienced trauma.

For me, the clinical- and macro-work are inseparable. As a future public health social worker, I want to be committed to efforts that develop and implement trauma-informed approaches across systems and workplaces – for the users and providers of programs/interventions/services. The macro AND micro are integrative and can work together. To alleviate human suffering and disrupt the systems and conditions perpetuating that suffering.

Throughout my time in my dual MSW/MPH program, I have been very intentional about taking direct-practice courses as my electives (e.g. Adolescent and Child Mental Health, Differential Diagnosis, and Working with Groups). Additionally, I am a research assistant on a project focusing on LGBTQ mental health among young adults, while also working part-time on how services are accessible to Spanish-speaking older adults in the county. While all this requires a bit of mental gymnastics from talking about diagnostic criteria in the DSM and the development consequences of trauma, to program development and stakeholder engagement, I enjoy learning to zoom-in and zoom-out when addressing an issue and realizing how everything is connected under the same lens.

I will acknowledge that I might be over ambitious and that I still have some ways to go in order to figure out how to integrate the clinical and macro work in my professional career as a unified specialty – but it is a balancing act I am willing and excited to learn. It is possible. There are professionals out there making it happen. And I have to remind myself to trust the process, ask for advice from those doing this type of work that I care about, and not to limit the possibilities of what I think I can do in the future as a public health (clinical) social worker.


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A New Passion for Cultural Competency Training

Last month I attended a Clinical Lecture Series hosted by UNC School of Social Work/Northwest AHEC. The speaker was Bonita Porter, MSW, LCSW and the title of her presentation was, “Cultural Competency & Ethical Decision-Making”. Walking in, I considered myself to have at least a baseline of understanding around ethical decision making and cultural competency, but from her training I left with a widely expanded comprehension and a new enthusiasm for this topic.

My field instructor and task supervisor from my current field placement, Hospice of the Piedmont, also attended the Clinical Lecture. After the lecture, they both told me that their knowledge of this subject was expanded, despite having over two decades of career experience in the field of social work each!  My field instructor was so inspired by the training that she suggested that she and I co-facilitate an ethics and cultural competency training at the very next staff education session. We met weekly to prepare for the training; it seemed that the more we researched, more enthusiastic we became, and the more information that we wanted to squeeze into our forty-five minutes of allotted time.

We began our training by challenging the staff to privately scale their feelings as they were rapidly shown an array of diverse photos. We emphasized the initial feelings experienced when viewing the photos were “snapshots of their core values”, and that our lives directly impact the “lenses” by which we uniquely see the world.  We imparted that cultural differences extend to more than ethnicity, as it is inclusive of language, ableism, ageism, classism, sexuality, gender identity, and religion. We incorporated a video that explained important aspects of cultural competency such as the power of assumptions, and the importance of self-awareness regarding intentional and unintentional biases. We challenged staff to explore ways that ethics and cultural competency effect the working relationships between hospice and patients and their families/friends/caregivers.

It felt like a gift to share this information with the staff of Hospice of the Piedmont, and I hope that seeds were planted that will cause a ripple effect of change within the lives of the people that each of the staff touches. As the saying goes, “social work is my superpower, what is yours?”

For more information about upcoming UNC School of Social Work Clinical Lecture Series, visit http://cls.unc.edu/

Building Cultural Competence: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9sLePALZ3M

Definition of microaggressions:

“Microaggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.” Sue, 2010

*Sue, D. W. (2010). Microaggressions: More than Just Race. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/microaggressions-in-everyday-life/201011/microaggressions-more-just-race



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Making a Decision

It’s getting to that point in the year when applicants have to make a choice about where they’ll be going to school in the fall. So how will you make this very important decision? There are a lot of things to consider. For me, it came down to location, cost, and whether the school had faculty and classes to support my interests.

When I started applying to MSW programs, I chose to only apply to schools in a location where I would be excited to live. I am from the Washington, D.C. area and I was eager to live somewhere new. When I looked at all of the dual MSW/MPH programs in the country, I was most excited about the prospect of living in Seattle, Chicago, or the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area. Initially I really wanted to be in an urban setting, and Chicago was my first choice. However, when I was accepted to UNC I came for a tour and the program truly impressed me. When I walked around downtown Carrboro, I felt like I had found a wonderful community that could easily be home.

I also knew going into the program that I had very specific interests in perinatal health, so it was very important to me that faculty in the school had similar interests. I was pleased to find that several faculty in the school of social work have an interest in maternal health. Combined with the stellar Maternal and Child Health department in the School of Public Health, the program at UNC started to feel like a no-brainer.

The last element that had to fall into place was cost. Since I had already decided against any schools in my state, I was left to compare costs between the three schools I applied to. I did receive scholarship that made UNC an even clearer choice, but I wanted to be sure that there would be a chance for me to get in-state tuition after the first year in the program. UNC has vague residency requirements, which makes them tricky. You can read about them here: https://registrar.unc.edu/academic-services/residency/

The basic premise is that you must live in NC for 12 consecutive months, and you have to demonstrate a real commitment to living in the state long-term, not just for education purposes. Once I had decided on UNC, I committed whole-hog to this state. I often tell folks that I would have tattooed “Tarheel” on my forehead if it would make me a more eligible applicant for residency. What I ended up doing was not quite so dramatic but was effective.

I moved my partner, our two cats, and my broken foot to NC 3 weeks in advance of the first day of classes. I wanted to have the 12 months of residency established before the semester would start. I drove straight to the DMV and I updated my license and registration. I closed all my bank accounts and opened an account in a NC credit union. I took up volunteering outside of school to demonstrate commitment to the state. I did not leave the state for more than 3 days in a row at any point in the year. I know that residency looks different for everybody, but this worked for me. My residency application was approved on the first submission. Having in-state tuition has been a huge benefit to UNC. I have been able to pay for much of my education using savings.

I am thrilled every day with the choice I made to come to UNC. I have fallen in love with this state and am so proud to be a Tarheel.

Posted in I ♥ North Carolina, Outside of the classroom

Positive Affirmations

Lately, the stress of the semester has hit full swing. My two 1.5 credits courses ended today, meaning there was a pile up of assignments. I’ve been trying to get as many job applications out as possible, and my “senioritis” is hitting hard as there is less than two months of grad school left. When my energy starts to run low, my resiliency also runs low, and it is harder and harder to bounce back from even the little things. In these moments, when I feel like I am not going to be successful in my classes, or when I feel as though I won’t be capable of finding a good job, I have to be careful of how my thoughts impact my actions. CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) teaches us all how important our internal thoughts are, and how these thoughts have the ability to change our emotions and behaviors (if you haven’t learned about CBT yet, or seen this triangle, don’t worry, you will in graduate school!).



With this triangle in mind, I have to be careful to not let my thoughts spiral out of control. In general, I tend to be more of a realistic bordering on pessimist, so when I get stressed about something it is easy to psych myself out very quickly.

So today, I am trying to remember to speak positively to myself. Sometimes I forget that I have to tell myself the same things I would tell a client. It takes a conscious effort to change your thoughts and it certainly isn’t easy, but it has the potential to change your life. Here are some positive mantras I found from Get Schooled (a really awesome attendance initiative program focused on engaging and empowering students). I am even going to write these out and put them in a jar in my office so that if the students I work with come in with some negative thoughts, they can pull a positive affirmation out from the jar and practice positive self-talk right then and there!

pos vibes(https://getschooled.com/dashboard/article/3484-15-positive-affirmations)

Basically, although there are many great parts, Grad school isn’t always rainbows and butterflies. Life isn’t either. But each step that I take is bringing me closer to where I want to be, and as I apply what I am learning in my Direct Practice classes, I remember that this simple way of rewiring my brain and being kind to myself can help me create a new, and better reality.

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Finding Direction in Social Work

There are a lot of reasons to appreciate Social Work as a field, a lot of doors through which people enter the field, and a lot of paths people take once they are in it. If you want a clear, delineated career trajectory, this may not be the one for you. It is, however, a thing of beauty in that there are so many options. We have legislators who are social workers; we have case managers in almost every agency setting imaginable; social workers carry out the majority of mental and behavioral healthcare provision in the nation; if there is a social problem or concern in the world, social workers are somehow involved in trying to remedy it.

So where in the world do you find yourself?

I surmise that most people have some personal stake in social work’s real-world applications (as opposed to being in it for the money or the glamour). Many people seem drawn to working with a particular population because of some personal connection: interest in palliative care after being a caretaker for a loved one, advocating for a population with which the social workers identify themselves, or contributing to the solution of some social problem that affects them or their community. The more I look around though, I notice that many people seem to have a more vague or ambiguous connection to their work. At some point in our lives, we begin to develop an identity… and often that identity leads us directly into social work. We are the helpers, we are the feelers, we are a victim-turned-champion, we are the hegemony-breakers, and so on. But how does this look over time?

This week, the School of Social Work hosted a Networking Night for the Direct Practice track. Networking Night was less like a career fair and more like a chance to hear from recent graduates of the program about job searching, networking, and just connecting about life in the social work field and finding a career… and everything in between. As I enter the final semester of the program, these kinds of professional development opportunities become all the more greatly appreciated. They also become all the more integral to understanding my identity as a social worker and as a person. These events are helping me actualize my identity as a social worker (and how much energy have I put into developing this over the past years?!), but also actualizing as a person. With each conversation, I gain a bit more insight into how to break into the field. I understand a little bit better, what it will take to turn my dreams into reality. I see how others have gotten from their starting positions and moved into a better fit for them. I see people who thought they knew exactly what they wanted (and rigidly), but then took a job and it changed their professional identity and they would never have it any other way. There are times when money and life and reality limit how choose-y we can be, but there are other times when a field such as social work lets us know what it needs from us. And what has driven me to get to where I am now will need to listen to that because ultimately this is an evolving part of who I am, and I will continue to evolve with this career.

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Making the Move

This week three years ago, I made the decision (and the deposit) to attend UNC School of Social Work. While UNC was my first choice, it was not an easy decision for me. At the time I was working in D.C. and loved it. I’d also spent all of my life in Maryland. So I worried- Would I like North Carolina? Did I want to uproot my life to live there? Would my degree and my connections carry the same weight outside of North Carolina if I ever decided to leave? And in the end, all of the answers ended up being yes.

I knew UNC was going to be a great fit for me. I was impressed by the dedication of the faculty, the small class size and the prestige of the school. But I worried about moving. I was open to the idea of pursuing a career and a life outside of Maryland, but I had never spent time in North Carolina. However, very shortly after moving here, I learned I made the right choice. North Carolina is a beautiful state with many things to offer. Whether your interest is nature, music, museums or eating and drinking like me, there’s something here to for everyone. I very quickly felt at home.

However, as much as I have learned to love North Carolina, ultimately I decided I wanted to move back up north to be closer to family. It was a hard decision for me to make and I will be sad to leave my new home in the spring. But as I started the job search process, I started to have the same gnawing worries- What would it be like trying to find a job out of state? So far, I’m happy to report that it has not been an issue at all. The UNC name carries a lot of weight wherever it goes, and potential employers have been impressed to see it on my resume. Additionally, a lot of professors do work on a national level and several of them have been happy to chat about organizations and opportunities in my target area. Though the program has strong connections in the state of North Carolina, it still is well known nationwide.

My two years in North Carolina have flown by. Though I am excited about what lies ahead, I am sad at the prospect of having to leave the state I have grown to love. However, I know that’s it’s only a couple of hours down the road and that I will be back to visit soon!

Posted in I ♥ North Carolina, Outside of the classroom