Organizing the GCSW Research Conference

Since I joined the PhD program in 2014, the GCSW has hosted an annual research conference at the end of each fall semester. The conference allows Master’s of Social Work (MSW) students, doctoral students, and faculty members to present posters and oral presentations on their research to a large audience. Students also have the opportunity to receive valuable feedback on their research methods and results. I have participated every year as an audience member, volunteer, and/or presenter. In 2017, as a Foundation TA, I had the great opportunity to help organize the conference with Dr. Sarah Narendorf—the Conference Chair and Foundation Coordinator. It was an unforgettable and rewarding experience. I worked hard, enjoyed myself, and learned a lot.

Since many people misperceive the conference as an opportunity for only first-year Foundation students to showcase their research, there is usually low participation among doctoral students who have valuable research to share. As a strategy for recruiting more doctoral participants this year, I suggested forming a conference committee to involve and empower students. With support from the PhD and Foundation programs, we successfully formed a committee that included two professors (Dr. Sarah Narendorf and Dr. Chiara Acquati), three PhD students (Kenya Minott, Theresa Chrisman, and myself), and one senior MSW student (Andrea Elizondo) who met once a month to plan the conference. For example, one professor was in charge of abstract reviews while a PhD student was responsible for arranging logistics, judges, and prizes for the student poster contest. Each PhD committee member promoted the conference within their own cohort since they know their cohort students well and meet with them frequently. We found that communication through word-of-mouth worked much more effectively than sending massive, wordy emails from the program or college. The conference committee worked hard and was very helpful to keep the ball rolling.

We had to begin planning at very beginning of summer to hold the conference in December. Planning was not always smooth, and we were frequently frustrated. From ordering food to promoting publicity, from arranging faculty presentations to completing the CEU application, from getting a keynote speaker to collaborating with other universities/programs, we needed to cooperate with many internal and external departments and staff. We faced significant difficulty when we received little or no response to our communications since the success of each step depended so strongly on the completion of other tasks. It felt like we were always chasing people down to get a response, resorting to phone calls, and emails, and even catching people in the hallway!

On December 1st, 2017, the conference was successfully held with the help of the committee members and student volunteers. With our ongoing efforts, we had 7 PhD posters, 3 posters from senior MSW students, 1 alumni poster, and 2 PhD oral presentations in addition to over 100 posters from Foundation students. We also included BSW students from Texas Southern University and Lamar University, who presented 3 and 5 posters, respectively. This year, we also initiated a collaborative community effort proposed by senior MSW student and committee member Andrea Elizondo. Through this new component of the research conference, community agencies partnered with senior MSW students who presented on evidence-based practices conducted at the agencies. This collaboration showed the students how research is used in the field and how to connect practice with research.

Our higher level of student participation was great progress compared to previous years, but many PhD students still did not attend the conference. While first-year PhD students are not have limited research results after just starting the program, senior PhD students often have many other national or international presentation opportunities. Organizers of future conferences will need to develop strategies for effectively engaging these students.

In my opinion, putting your ideas and work together and introducing them to other people in an understandable way is a very important skill for social work researchers and practitioners. Preparing and presenting a poster is one of the best ways to practice such vital skills, even for those who are not interested in being researchers in the future. I hope more students and faculty will support this important endeavor and recognize the value of exchanging ideas in a critical yet friendly professional environment.

By: Shu Zhou

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Social Work Abroad

It all started my Junior year of undergrad, around the time I switched my major to social work. I wanted to explore what social work was outside of my comfort zone –outside of what I knew social work to be. The next phase was to step outside of the box and to inquire about studying abroad. I decided to study at the University of Ghana. That experience led to an internship abroad in Australia my senior year of undergrad.

Now, here I am just finished my first semester of graduate school at the University of Houston. This past semester, I took the Global Justice course which challenged my definition of international social work. I learned whether domestic or international -social work has the same meaning. However, practicing social work internationally deals with global problems experienced by different cultures. The difference between social work internationally and within my community is the policies, culture and lifestyle.   

Let’s face it- there is nothing like learning when you immerse into a new culture. If you are interested in going abroad- either to complete your studies, internship or fellowship: seek scholarships! There are many benefits to going abroad while in school. One perk is the ability to use financial aid and scholarships.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” –Paulo Coelho

Here are the Five W’s that always help for abroad experiences!

Who

That’s simple! It’s you! You have the opportunity to explore something new and to immerse into a new culture.

What

Experiencing social work abroad!

When

In graduate school, the best time to go abroad is during your summer semester. You may find programs from one week abroad to two months abroad.  

Where

The world is your canvas. You choose where you want to travel!

Why

An abroad experience allows you to find new interests, make lifelong friends, explore career opportunities, and see the world!

By: Shanquela Williams

Holidays: Family, Friends & Finals!!

What an exciting time of year – the holiday season. Beginning with Thanksgiving, there is so much to be thankful for…including our GCSW family. What a privilege it is to be attending graduate school. Of course, none of us made it here alone. So, to all of you who feel blessed as I do, may we all give thanks to our family and friends. Not to mention our classmates who share in our joy and stress, we are also grateful!

Lest we forget, what would the holiday season be like without the expectations and excitement of finals! Wait, did I just say excitement and finals in the same sentence?! Yes, I sure did. We can be excited that soon after finals comes our much-anticipated Christmas break. So even though finals may be a time filled with a case of nerves and lack of sleep (or is it just me?) …joy will soon follow!

Regardless of whether one celebrates Christmas, Hanukkah or Eid Al-Fitr during the holiday season, it is a special time of year. For us here at GCSW, friends, family and finals are a formula we can handle! Particularly as we end our semester and look forward to a New Year, 2018! It is right around the corner.

And in honor of our dedication to diversity…here’s how to say, “Merry Christmas” in different languages:

German:          Frohe Weihnachten
Italian:             Buon Natale

Portuguese:     Feliz Natal

Japanese:         メリークリスマス
Russian:           С Рождеством

Dutch:             Vrolijk kerstfeest

Swedish:         God jul

Czech:             Veselé vánoce

Turkish:           Mutlu Noeller

Spanish:           Feliz Navidad

If you do not see a translation listed, please by all means, do share!

And, for those of you like myself, born, bred and buttered in Texas: Happy holidays, ya’ll!

By: Rosanna Ishee

Juggling Life as a Grad Student

Military Spouse. New Mother. Grad Student. Part-Time Office Manager. Volunteer. These are just a few of the hats I currently wear. I’ve been a military spouse for five years now and I love every minute of it. Except my husband is leaving for South Korea for a year the first of February – six weeks after our first child is born. So I’m moving home to Houston from Hill AFB, Utah four weeks after our son is born, so that I can do field practicum and have the support of our families while he is gone. We have to pack up our entire life and our cats and move back to a place I haven’t lived at in five years. All the while, I’m working like crazy to make sure my academic career remains intact through all of this.

Guys – we all have a lot going on. Grad school is such a huge commitment and extremely overwhelming at times. We are adding more on top of what we already have going on by seeking higher education of any form. I know Houston just went through Hurricane Harvey, and many of you suffered great loss because of it. We all have families, kids, significant others, jobs, responsibilities. But we are still here, still persevering through it all, because we are being called to something greater. So we manage to work everything in and trudge forward, despite whatever is happening in our personal lives, because we know that one day we will make a difference in someone else’s life. I look at my course load for school sometimes and think, “what am I doing?” I sometimes feel out of my league and I wonder if all of these things are beginning to weigh on me. But I know I was called to do this – to get my Master’s degree, to be a mother, to be a milspouse, to be strong.

I commend every one of you for answering the call inside yourselves and pursuing something greater. It is that drive that will make you succeed in life, no matter where you’re at. I implore us to make sure we take time for self-care and self-reflection in the midst of it all. I cannot tell you how many people in the GCSW have reached out to make sure I know they are there for me in the middle of all I have going on. That’s how I know I picked the right school. And I want you all to know that I’m here also – sometimes we just need someone to listen. Whatever your avenue of self-care may be, take it. Don’t let yourself become too overwhelmed by the pressures of life. Remember that through it all, we have each other. Always count on that.

Amanda

My husband Adam and I volunteering at our local church in Utah.

By: Amanda S.

 

Persevering Through the Academic Frenzy

It begins slowly.  Like the opening reel of film with a panoramic view of an urban neighborhood; there is a rustle in the trees, leaves blowing across the cement, and people strolling.  It arrives sweltering with anticipation and enthusiasm – the new semester that is.

Film transition: contrast cut.  Mid-semester. Things are in motion.  The protagonist is slightly disheveled, sleeping a lot less.  Tension ascends steadily from the back of her shoulders to the base of her neck.  “Balancing” is the word touted to suggest that she is doing her best to hold. it. all. together.  And things continue in motion.

As a student, I can appreciate the difficulty of managing all of the goodness that comes with scholastic life – classes, assignments, readings, research, etc.  For me, the new semester is exactly like written above.  I find myself calm and ready for new challenges and then I am quickly absorbed in a rapid sprint-like pace crossing one thing off the to-do list only to replace it with 3 more things.  If anyone knows a student then you know we become masters of multi-tasking.  A student can toggle between 12 computer windows, while listening to music, sending a text, eating a snack, and talking to an office mate like no one’s business.  And admittedly I have become obsessed with my smart phone.  Seriously – checking emails like it is the saline drip I need to remain hydrated.  Obsessive might be a good word to describe my overall preoccupation with school.  And suddenly 7 weeks into the semester it seems like there will be a brief respite from the anxiety and overwhelming feelings.

Take three.  Spring break is coming and I plan to take a few days to do nothing.  I am so grateful for the ever-present mentors, friends, loved-ones, pinterest, my beautiful dog Molly, faith, personal characteristics, and flaws that get me through chaos.  So while my rather decent organizational skills and slightly overbearing ambition help me manage all of the responsibilities of being a student, I am glad to have a chance to regroup and start afresh.  A little bit of nature, a visit with some long-lost friends, and maybe even reading for fun will all be in store for me.  I’ll take some time to reflect on what I am doing.  I’ll fuel my passion for social work.  I’ll strengthen my resolve to help others, by doing what is fundamental to the helping process; I will care for myself.

To all of my fellow students, just remember the pinnacle of our success is in the interactions we have with the clients and communities we serve.  So, we can do our best in school, but also remember that life happens outside of these brick walls.  And I can’t help but recall the words of Dr. Seuss:

“So be sure when you step, Step with care and great tact. And remember that life’s A Great Balancing Act. And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.” ~ Dr. Seuss, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

By: Jackie Duron

Engaging in the Faculty Hiring Process as a Student

Interviews

It is always exciting when new faculty members join the university. It is even more exciting when you have the chance to contribute your voice during the hiring process. I am fortunate to have experienced such opportunities several times as a PhD student at the GCSW.

Prior to faculty candidates’ on-campus interviews, students receive emails and see flyers around the building with information regarding interview date and visit schedule. Every interview includes a specific time period for an open meeting with current MSW and PhD students…all we need to do is show up!

I have participated in these hour-long open meetings many times.  In my opinion, these meetings offer an excellent opportunity to learn and prepare for job hunting. In these meetings, I get to ask the seasoned candidates questions that I may be asked in future job interviews. For example, I have asked candidates whose first language is not English whether they consider their accent to be a challenge and how they plan to overcome such a barrier. Their answers are often organized and convincing, and they have inspired me to develop my own response.

In addition, I have learned information from our conversations that would not be evident from reading their curriculum vitae. For instance, I ask questions about how they balance teaching and research, why they chose GCSW, and what their career plan includes. If the candidates are hired, then their answers help me decide whose classes I want to take and who I would like to collaborate with in the future.

I have also asked candidates about their experience and ability to work with a diverse student body that includes many students of color and/or international students. In addition to evaluating the candidates’ cultural competency in teaching, I have taken this time as a chance to represent for international students and voice what we need from them. I shared my study abroad challenges and concerns in language, academic and personal life, as well as the extra efforts I have to make than domestic students. At the end of the meeting, the candidates also ask us questions about the college if time allows. From our responses, they can learn first-hands perspectives about the college and student life.

Another way to engage in the faculty hiring process is by attending their job talk, which includes a PowerPoint presentation about their research projects as well as their teaching experience and philosophy. These presentations have not only provided informative and educational content, but they have also contributed to my understanding of presentation styles and PowerPoint designs.

Students are provided candidate evaluation forms following the open meetings and job talks. I am always more than happy to give my opinions about different candidates. Though the college will not necessarily follow my recommendations, I appreciate being given the chance to give my 2 cents!  For example, I sat in for Dr. Nicole Broomfield’s job talk and learned about her valuable work philosophy in teaching, advising and supervising. Her interesting experience in the Middle East opened my mind and I am impressed about her cultural competency.  I am very proud to know that I might have, in some small way, helped bring this wonderful associate dean to the college! Being part of the evaluation process makes me feel like a valued and active member of the college community.

I appreciate that the college includes us in this valuable experience. As I have learned many times at the GCSW, great learning occurs not only in the classroom and readings, but also in meaningful communication with others.

By: Shu Zhou

A Look at The Numbers

If you haven’t heard already, June is Immigrant Heritage Month and June 20th is World Refugee Day. Due to the timing of this blog post, I decided to reflect on the importance of the immigrant population.

Why should the immigrant population be important for socials workers in the Greater Houston Area and in Texas?

Houston has their own World Refugee Day, which shows the importance that immigrants have for Houston. Another cool fact is that 1 in 4 residents of Harris County are foreign-born (Rhor 2015), and 1 out of 6 Texans is an immigrant (U.S. Census Bureau). According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the immigrant population in Houston represents close to 1/3 of the entire immigrant population in Texas. Nearly 2.4 million children or 1/3 of children in Texas, live with one or more parents who is an immigrant, and half of these children live with at least one parent who is not a U.S. citizen (Annie E. Casey Foundation). Additionally, it is estimated that 834,000 children in the state live with one or more undocumented parents (Migration Policy Institute 2016). If you are planning to go to the GCSW, you will probably encounter immigrant clients at your field placements. If you are planning to stay in the surrounding area of Houston or even in the state, your clients would most likely be immigrants.

Money Matters.

The immigrant population of Texas has the purchasing power of nearly $100 billion (Center for Public Policy Priorities 2017). $100 billion is a big deal for Texas because it is almost half of the state biannual budget for 2018-2019 fiscal year, which is $216.8 billion (Garrett 2017). Part of the $216.8 billion budget is going to spend $500 million in CPS, $196 million in mental health services, $40.2 million for higher education institutions, and among other things (Garrett 2017). The sales taxes and other taxes that immigrants pay for fund the state’s agencies and services.  If you’re planning to work in social services within the state government or work for a non-profit that gets grants from the state government, your job could be indirectly sponsored by taxpayer money from immigrants.

So, now what?

We are in a time where nationalism is on the rise with the recent change of federal administration. This is a time where fear of “the other” can be extreme and lead to severe consequences such as, discrimination, implicit biases, and racial hate crimes. Immigrants have been targeted and have been dehumanized from the media and elected leaders. People have forgotten how to empathize with one another. This is where social workers can play a role in navigating difficult conversations and guide people to humanize the immigrant population. You can share stories of the immigrant population (without mentioning the actual names of your clients to keep confidentiality) and the impact they have in our society because you are more than likely going to hear a migration story from a client at your field placement or a classmate. The goal is not to change someone’s political opinion but instead to teach them how to love someone who is completely different from themselves.

By: Andrea Elizondo

Sources:

(2017). Immigrants Drive the Texas Economy. Center for Public Policy Priorities. Retrieved from http://forabettertexas.org/images/EO_2017_ImmigrantsDrive_Houston_FactSheet.pdf

Capps, R., et al. (2016). A profile of U.S. children with unauthorized immigrant parents. Retrieved from http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/profile-us-children-unauthorized-immigrant-parents

Children in immigrant families: Children in immigrant families in which residents parents are not U.S. citizens. Parents who are not U.S. citizens include those with and without legal authorization.The Annie E. Casey Foundation, KIDS COUNT Data Center. http://datacenter.kidscount.org/data/tables/133-children-in-immigrant-families-in-which-resident-parents-are-not-us-citizens?loc=45&loct=2#detailed/2/45/false/869,36,868,867,133/any/480,481

Garrett, R. (2017). Lawmakers finalize budget deal that leaves $11 bill unspent, shores up CPS, mental health, border security. Retrieved from https://www.dallasnews.com/news/texas-legislature/2017/05/26/lawmakers-finalize-budget-deal-leaves-11-billion-unspent-shores-cps-mental-health-border-security

Rhor, M. (2015). Immigrants from around the world are transforming Houston. Houston Chronicle. Retrieved from http://www.houstonchronicle.com/local/themillion/article/How-diversity-culture-demographics-of-Houston-6117301.php

U.S. Census Bureau, 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, Table S0501.

Picture courtesy of: http://hola-arkansas.com/immigrant-heritage-month-celebrating-immigrants/