Networking and The Power

Jarvis Photo  By Jarvis

How often have you heard the phrase “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know?” My guess is that you probably hear it every so often, especially when it comes to making progress and moving around in the professional and academic worlds.  I never realized just how important and true this phrase was until a few months ago.  I would always hear it, but I would never take the time out to really analyze the saying and try to apply it to my everyday life.

Last semester, I enrolled in an elective class, Managing Human Service Organizations with Professor Jennifer Battle (whom is freaking amazing and knows EVERYone in the Houston Social Work World), and I learned a wealth of helpful knowledge.  One of the many highlights of the course was Networking and the power of it.  We would spend at least 15 minutes each class discussing networking and “the who you know phrase” would always come up somehow.  A part of our 3-hour session each week with Professor Battle included a guest speaker lecture on a different topic that we covered in class.  Professor Battle would bring in a different colleague each week from various agencies and companies in the Houston area to speak with our class and give us their best advice.  The thing that amazed me most every time a guest speaker presented was not actually the information presented, but instead was the relationship that Professor Battle would have with each of her colleagues.  They all spoke so highly of her and you could clearly tell that our professor had built great relationships and rapport with her colleagues and that she was very well respected in the social work world. It was very clear that they would probably help her in any way they could if she ever needed it.  It wasn’t until a random Tuesday night class when it finally clicked in me.  “IT’S DEFINITELY NOT WHAT YOU KNOW, BUT WHO YOU KNOW!”

It seemed so obvious, but for so long I never really understood the saying.  I learned that if one wants to grow, one must network.  In the social work profession, it is nearly impossible to make change alone and without the help and cooperation of our entire community, we won’t be that successful.  It is up to us as social workers to build our networks and help each other so that we can help our clients whom are the people that depend on us the most.  Networking and connecting with other social workers is essential and I’m so glad that I finally realized the power of networking and connecting with other social workers!

Life Balance

Gardenia Photo   By Gardenia

I remember rocking my daughter back and forth, back and forth, as I fed her and nurtured her body while attempting to nurture my brain. Once she was lulled back into her sweet sleep I continued pouring over books and wondering how to fashion my written words in such a way that they would be a true expression of everything I felt inside, each and every thought I wished to convey. The process of balancing my life had become considerably trickier since the birth of my daughter three months prior and I was tired so much of the time. I went to complete my BSW when she was just 3 months old and I started with an 18 hour semester. My husband was patient and supportive, but we were 20 and 21 with a newborn and a whole slew of responsibilities that we did not know yet how to navigate. I had to learn through trial and error how to allocate my time, how to make the most of every minute, and to just allow myself the grace to make mistakes. Balancing family, work, and graduate school requires knowing that there will be times when it feels as if there is an overwhelming amount expected from you that cannot possibly be extracted from your tired mind and body. However, there is a curious thing that occurs when it feels like there is not possibly a way in which you can press forward and excel. From within the recesses deep within self and the support of those around you there arises the drive to push forward. Having confidence in your abilities while simultaneously being vulnerable in reaching out and allowing a support network to help soothe the worry that sometimes arises and provide encouragement that is of often needed, can be key components in helping you progress in your social work journey.

Your journey is your own and the aspects of your life that you so carefully balance help create the intricate fabric of who you are and comprise the unique imprint you can make on the social work profession. How exciting to know that our lives and all we balance can be an asset in creating who we are; molding our perspective and impacting our desire to make lasting change.

Child Welfare Education Project (CWEP) Symposium

Shu Zhou      By Shu

My first CWEP symposium

As a Doctoral Research Assistant for Child Welfare Education Project (CWEP), I am very fortunate to get free access to CWEP events and activities for free. On October 30th, 2015, I participated in my first CWEP symposium with a topic of traumatic events and de-escalation.

First of all, I was impressed with the high qualifications and excellent performances of the two presenters: detective Cecil Arnold and detective Chad Rogers. As detectives at the Pearland police department, they have not only intensive professional experiences dealing with traumatic events but also relevant educational backgrounds like Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice. As a result, they were able to apply the factual and abstract knowledge and information into a variety of real cases and link the examples back to the topic. They possess excellent communication skills. In addition, they refreshed my mind when explaining familiar social work skills (i.e.: active listening) from another point of view as police officers. It gave me some new thoughts about how to utilize “minimal encouragers” and “effective pauses” in a different way.

Moreover, the interactive manner of the symposium helped me to focus and memorize better. The questions asked by the presenters, such as “what will you do” and “how does this person feel”, stimulated my thinking. Although such heavy topic is easily led the presentation to sadness, our room was full of laughter. I appreciate the presenter’s appropriate use of humor, which emphasized the discussion and relaxed our tension. We had the chance to share our own experiences and feelings and were given the opportunity to ask questions throughout the symposium. It was a great opportunity for me to learn from other social work students and practitioners other than the presenters.

Finally, the highlight of the symposium was definitely those real criminal cases that the presenters have worked on before. The last given example was the Pearland hostage situation on the New Year’s Eve of 2010. They also showed us a lot of inside sources such as the case pictures, audios and even videos! All of the vivid visual-aids brought us back to that scene and facilitated our learning experience. The symposium was ended with some TV interviews of the involved parties such as the hostages and their families and friends. Everyone’s sharing made me to think and understand better how one traumatic event affecting each person differently.

Overall, I enjoyed my first CWEP symposium a lot and hope to attend more in the future. What a fun educational experience! I am thankful for such great off-campus learning opportunity.

News about “Pearland hostage situation”:

Police: Houston area bank standoff ends, all hostages safe (CNN)

New Year’s Eve Bank Standoff Comes to End in Texas (abc NEWS)


Emme Bozone Photo    By Emme

Confession: I love reading almost as much as I love coffee. There is something about getting lost in a story, being challenged to think a new way, and learning about an issue I once was clueless to. Reading keeps me sane; reminding me there is a world beyond the walls of the classroom, the list of homework assignments, and clients to see.

With the cool air comes a longing to curl up with a hot cup of tea, and a good book. To help you get started, here are some of the books I’ve enjoyed, in no particular order.

Just Mercy- A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson was a law student when he took an internship with a non-profit law firm that represented inmates on death row. This internship became his passion in life. After graduating, he returned to the firm before relocating to Alabama to found the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI). Representing the innocent, inadequately represented, survivors, children, and mentally ill on death row, Stevenson has made it is life calling to find justice for all. The book chronicles the history of death row, stories of inmates, and laws. It reads like a novel, rather then a textbook and exposes our nations deep roots of racial injustice that are still alive today.

Teaching with Poverty in Mind by Eric Jensen
Research has shown the adverse affects poverty has an individual at any age, but have you ever considered how schools react to it is also a major player in how students will adapt? Students spend a majority of their day at school, surrounded by peers and teachers, in a setting that should theoretically be enriching their life. Jensen takes a look at how schools currently respond to poverty, what research shows, and how schools can help bridge the gap. A must read for any social worker as he intertwines micro and macro issues and change to demonstrate the importance of a well-connected team.

When Helping Hurts by Steven Corbett
To be honest, I read this book for the first time three years ago as I was preparing to spend a summer in Malawi and Zambia as a youth ministry intern. This semester I pulled it out and re-read it as I started my field placement. I credit this book to be a major part of how I came to understand social injustice, the effects of philanthropy, and empowerment. Written from the perspective of the Christian theology, it gives insight into the world of non-profits and social service agencies and the impact of different types of service.

Is Everyone Hanging Out without Me? (And other concerns) by Mindy Kaling
This is possibly my favorite book I’ve read this semester! Every time I picked up the book I was either laughing, identifying with her story on some level, or both. As a collection of short stories about her adult life, Kaling recaps some of her most trying times in life, integrating humor, life lessons and bits of wisdom. I finished this book in three days and am ready to read it again!

So what’s next on my list?
– Gray Mountain by John Grisham
– Rising Strong by Brene Brown
– All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

A Reflection on Professors

Crawford_Headshot         By Claire

I have attended some truly excellent, scholarly, and renowned academic institutions in my past, but I have never felt quite the depth of connection to professors that I do here at the GCSW. I think many of my classmates would agree that, regardless of subject matter, we have some professors here who have the ability to not only enhance our professional futures but also our personal lives. I have a professor who speaks with such eloquence, poise, humor, and general realness, that I want to record everything she says and write it down for my personal daily review. I have had a professor who can explain complex, abstract, and/or pragmatic topics with ease in such a way that students leave her classes with a skillset that will last a lifetime. I have had a professor who makes policy interesting and even exciting, which I never thought possible. I have had professors with the most incredible wealth of knowledge from years and years practicing social work who impart their lessons learned in the field. My classmates and I are somewhat like groupies…we wait for our professors after class, we go to office hours, we chat in the hallway, and I’ve seen students give tearful thanks to professors at the end of the semester. When I have mentioned certain populations or projects I might be interested in to my professors, they have typically engaged me and offered ways to help. I feel comfortable going to many of my professors for professional advice, and they consistently provide invaluable new perspectives.

Taking social work classes isn’t just about absorbing theoretic knowledge but is also a process involving the internalization of life skills and constant self-discovery. I have been continuously impressed with my professors’ ability to facilitate a safe but demanding environment in which students can learn from the professor, classmates, and themselves. It’s hard to believe I only have one more semester of classes from some of the professionals I look up to most. The professors are here for YOU, and they are some of the most incredible resources you will have in your professional career. Take advantage of their time and expertise while you’re here.

Frustrated? Advocate (for yourself)!

cassie-photo-    By Cassie

I was happy to have been able to help with the summer orientation a couple of weeks ago. Among other things, it prompted me to reflect on my first year and what I wanted to pass along to new students at the GCSW. There were many things that came to mind, like the importance of self-compassion or the many opportunities for social justice. Ultimately, I decided that one of the biggest messages I wanted to pass on was advocate for yourself. Part of our mission as social workers is advocating for change with and on behalf of others in need, and in focusing on that critical aspect of our work, I think we can sometimes forget that we must also advocate for ourselves. In fact, I think that we can most effectively advocate for others by becoming skilled at doing this for ourselves. Fortunately, the GCSW offers a supportive training ground to learn and practice these skills.

I would describe my Foundation Semester as primarily a process of recalibrating expectations, of the program and of myself. During that process, I met and corresponded with several members of the staff and faculty to express concerns, seek guidance, and provide feedback. Members of the department were notably receptive and available throughout. Sharing a concern or an area of frustration can often be met with defensiveness or justifications. However, this was not the case with the individuals I met with at the GCSW. On the whole, they were remarkably curious about my perspective and open to my thoughts, and they utilized their social worker super powers to validate my concerns. I was also grateful that they made themselves so available. Because I work full-time, I sometimes couldn’t meet during their regular office hours, so they would stay late or meet on the weekends in order to accommodate my schedule. In addition to being receptive to feedback that is offered by students, the college is consistently seeking feedback from its students and implementing its findings. This ongoing process of continual improvement and growth is one of the primary things I appreciate about the GCSW.

The self-advocacy skills I have today were hard earned through years of experience and mentorship, but no matter the current state of your skills, you can put them to good use at the GCSW. If you are an experienced self-advocate, use your skills in order to help the program continue to improve and better meet your needs. If you are strengthening your abilities, know that the GCSW is a great place to practice and that self-advocacy can happen in both large and small ways. In fact, something as simple as replying to an email from the college can produce change. I mention this example specifically because it is a “self-advocacy success” I experienced this past year. As a result of mine and others’ emails and the college’s receptivity, Career Services began holding workshops at times that accommodated the Weekend College’s schedule, giving us greater access to information and resources. This is a small victory, but it is the accumulation of these small victories that shape the GCSW in ways that make it better meet the needs of all its students and in turn result in better prepared future social workers. As with all change, it starts with you. I encourage you to use all your experiences at the GCSW as opportunities to grow and hone your self-advocacy skills. You and your future clients will be better for this work.

Social Justice Everywhere

cassie-photo-      By Cassie

I have a confession: when I applied to the GCSW, I wasn’t really sure what social justice meant. I admit to asking my friends how they would define it and even googling it in order to wrap my head around it enough to write my application essay. It was such a broad and abstract term that I didn’t feel like I fully grasped its meaning.

Nearing the end of my first year in the program, I’m happy to report that I have a much better understanding of what social justice means and that I feel affirmed that I am in the right program because, among other reasons, I now realize that all those issues I’ve been passionate about for so long are in fact social justice issues. I still, however, find it a hard concept to sum up. If pressed, I would say it is “equality for all,” but that doesn’t really feel like it quite captures it. Fortunately, I have been introduced to the work of author and scholar John A. Powell this summer, and he defines social justice in a way that really resonates with me. He says, “It’s an expression of caring, just caring about people and saying that you are connected to people…and then giving it voice.” I like his definition because it seems to break the idea down into two concrete and equally important parts: empathy and action.

My experiences in my first year at the GCSW have also led to a heightened awareness of all the many areas in which one can work for social justice. I’m a full-time Montessori teacher, and I originally didn’t see a great deal of connection between what I do in the classroom and social work, much less social justice. However, my studies at the GCSW have reinvigorated my passion for education because I now see the classroom as one of the frontlines of the fight for social justice. I work for social justice through educating adolescents and also through equipping them to go out and continue the fight themselves. Additionally, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work at Bo’s Place this summer. Even with my new understanding of this concept, grief support groups were the last place that I expected to see opportunities for social justice. Luckily, GCSW alum and former Ambassador, Flor Guevara, introduced me to the work of Alesia K. Alexander Layne. In her book Tapestries, Alexander Layne reminded me that there are differences in which communities’ losses are acknowledged and also in which kinds of losses are honored, and through giving voice to these injustices, we can move toward greater equality.

There are definite and obvious areas where social justice is painfully needed, and this is never clearer than in current times. I would offer, however, that the need for empathy and action is everywhere, and maybe even where you least expect it. I’m so glad that the GCSW has helped to give me the opportunities I needed in order to be able to see this.

(P.S. I can’t encourage you enough to follow the link above and get acquainted with the work of John A. Powell. He has some amazingly insightful ideas about what is needed for greater racial social justice, and I think all people, but especially budding social workers, would benefit from considering them.)

Don’t Blink!

View More:   By Greta

Without a doubt, there is a resonating theme about the first year. Where did it go? It seems as though it was yesterday that I was making plans to move to Houston, attending foundation days and completing foundation semester. Here I am at the end of year one and what a great ride! The GCSW has proven that you can be as involved or uninvolved as you want.

Being an ambassador has been an extremely positive experience. It excites me to talk to others regarding their pursuit for graduate school. One of my passions has been to promote education and this program allows me the opportunity to achieve that goal. The program not only allows me to meet some great students from various parts of the U.S. but also create new connections with fellow ambassadors.

Becoming involved with research through the GCSW is another added benefit. Many professors are more than willing to allow you to develop your goals to explore research. I have been fortunate to volunteer with Dr. Parrish’s GEAR youth anxiety study this semester and found the knowledge valuable as I think forward in my own research goals.

Choosing to become a member of the Policy Insiders Advisory Committee has been instrumental in building my knowledge and desire for more macro in my life. Making the connection between policy and practice is essential for my development as a social worker. Struggling for the majority of the first year over my clinical concentration vs. macro, it allowed me to have the macro side I felt I was going to miss. It has also been an asset in developing relationships with community partners and understanding the various opportunities for social workers.

Many of you reading this blog are on your way to the GCSW! In so very many ways, I don’t think you will be disappointed with your decision. If I could encourage you in any way, it would be to build relationships with your cohort members. They will be instrumental in celebrating the highs but dealing with the lows. Also, get involved. It might sound overwhelming to engage in outside activities; however, I truly believe it will make your GCSW experience richer.

On one last note: take the Self-Care portion of your foundation semester seriously. I developed what I thought was a realistic self-care plan. I found each week presented challenges to sanity and physical health. I had to tweak it on a weekly basis to fit the schedule. Give yourself permission to take time for what you love and nurture you!

Note to Self

Anna Johnson Photo    By Anna

The final test has been submitted on Blackboard, all of my papers have been turned in, and the graduation rehearsal has come and gone. In the midst of planning a graduation party and finding a job I’ve been reflecting on my two years at the GCSW, which right now feel like a blur. When I started in Fall 2013, I thought that I would become a clinical social worker, getting my LCSW and opening a private practice one day. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Today I am graduating with a macro concentration, having served as the Director of the M.A.C.R.O. Student Network for the past year, and looking into jobs in program management and training. Funny where life takes you, right?

I know some of you reading this are prospective students, wondering where the journey is going to take you at the GCSW. To give you an idea of what’s to come, here’s the advice I would give myself as a first-year student.

  1. Get involved…sooner!

When I began the program I was apprehensive at first about joining an organization or doing outside activities. While I think it was helpful to give myself a break and find my rhythm, I also felt that I was missing out on opportunities to enrich my grad school experience. When the announcement was made that they were seeking Ambassadors, I jumped at the chance to join. That led me to join the M.A.C.R.O. Student Network, seek a job as a Graduate Assistant, and make connections that will benefit me throughout my career. Because of my involvement with student organizations, such as Student Association, I will be introducing the speaker at this year’s Convocation Ceremony! If I could do it over again, I wouldn’t waste a second getting involved.

  1. Don’t be afraid to pursue your passion.

My first semester was spent mostly worrying about staying on the clinical track or going to macro. For so long I thought that I would be a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and have a private practice, but every time macro topics were mentioned in my Foundation classes my interest was piqued. It was difficult letting go of the vision I had created so long ago, but when I imagined my career after graduating, the idea of doing macro work excited me more than anything. Fortunately, I was able to combine my clinical and macro skills along the way, and because I followed my passion, the jobs I am applying to now are incredibly fascinating to me.

  1. Take time to enjoy it all.

At about the mid-point of each semester, I inevitably told someone in my life, “I just want this to be over!” Any graduate will say the same thing. Grad school takes work, but it’s also incredibly rewarding. Looking back I’ve done some amazing things in my classes, from advocacy projects to presentations to community stakeholders. Even in the grind, it’s so important to enjoy those moments. They will be over before you know it!

That’s my advice for any first-year or prospective students. You get out of this program what you put into it, and I suggest you take advantage of all this school has to offer.

A Promise to Change

Emme Bozone Photo      By Emme

During the foundation semester, it was hard to go a week without hearing a professor tell us how different our thought pattern would be by the time we walked across the stage at graduation. Out of stubbornness and a bit of naivety, I scoffed at the comment thinking the only thing that would change in two years was the amount of experience I would gain, the social work knowledge I would gather over the two years, and learn tangible ways to assist clients in therapy and practice.

One of the most profound moments of change I had this year was during my field placement with Interfaith Ministries for Greater Houston in the Meals on Wheels department. One afternoon I took a call from a local hospice agency requesting meals for a client who had a few weeks left on this earth. Our policy dictated we were unable to add him to our route; with a breaking heart I passed the information along and immediately went to my supervisor to seek feedback. Policy said we were not allowed to serve this client, but our intuition said we did.

As a clinical student, I came in with a mindset that policy was more of a nuisance, and would have little direct affect on my future practice. When I encountered this phone call, the effects of policy came to life. I now had a story and a glimpse into what policy has the potential for doing- both good and bad. Problem solving and collaboration allowed us to find a way to work with internal policy and get this client a daily meal.

While there is still a year left before I graduate, my thought pattern, instincts, and awareness to the world around us has begun to take on a new pattern. My practice is influenced by my classroom learning, but heavily supported by my own belief system. My weeks, although busy, have pockets of self-care to ensure that I take care of myself mentally, physically, and emotionally. I have built a network of support to ask questions, be honest about shortcomings, and seek wisdom and comfort. I acknowledge the nuance of policy in practice and seek to understand policies as they actively relate to serving others.

As you begin your MSW, stay cognizant to what is happening around you, both in the program and out. You will encounter clients that present what appears to be impossible needs, become challenged by colleagues, and find yourself stretched by the request from your professors and supervisors. Embrace the challenge and lean into your community for support. No good road traveled presents itself without forks, divots, and bumps. Enjoy the journey!


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