Following the Plan while Charting Your Destiny

The hybrid program is a structured three year course of study wherein a majority of your classes are highly structured in when they are scheduled to occur. When classes are taken as a cohort, relationships develop that will serve your professional network well. However, the cohort model means that classes are often predetermined. Each student has four open electives that typically occur in the summers where they can choose from several courses that the college has to offer.

One of the great things I’ve found about the GCSW is that students have a degree of autonomy with their degree plan. I am passionate about the disability community and working for social justice with people who have disabilities. While the GCSW doesn’t have a class focused on disability, I approached one of my faculty members about completing an Independent Study.

My passion for learning more about disability morphed into an Independent Study proposal. I had a few meetings with the faculty member discussing the objective of the course and talking about the working relationship I hoped to establish to complete the course. After securing the faculty’s approval, I chose the textbook, looked up and scheduled readings for the semester, and worked with my faculty to establish the assignments that would be used to grade my progress and learning throughout the course.

At the GCSW students are given a curriculum that will prepare them to be skilled social workers. This curriculum will serve me well, but when I work collaboratively with my faculty, the plan for my development as a social worker changes to chart a path to a future that aligns with the work I’ve always wanted to do.

By: Joe Hartsoe, GCSW Ambassador, Hybrid Cohort

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Teaching Social Work Online

One of the GCSW’s MSW program options is the online program. I didn’t realize how much work it took to offer an online class, until I became the online TA (Teaching Assistant) in Summer 2018.

Before a class opens to students, the online design team needs to get it ready on BlackBoard (BB) on time. They usual have to work on several courses at the same time due to a pressing schedule. In order to make online students’ learning experience as similar as our traditional face-to-face students, we need to collect course materials from different sources to match different learning styles. This is harder than it sounds, because all the courses have been taught by different professors over the years so there is a plethora of information and resources to choose from. After gathering the materials, we need to organize them on BB in a way that makes sense to both students and instructors. Next, the course designers need to build in some creative activities for online learning purposes such as pictures, videos, discussion board, quizzes and games. On the other hand, some instructors choose to record their lecture videos and power point slides. Some instructors include their voices into their slides and that requires a lot of extra preparing time.

Another challenge is the technology. Some students and faculty alike are afraid of trending E-education tools such as BB and Zoom (an online meeting app). No one is born to be the master of technology. Senior faculty members usually have relatively more experiences in both practice and teaching. However, they might not be very familiar with

current online teaching platforms due to the fact that online course offerings are still relatively new. They might be just as nervous as our students, but they are eager to learn and grow step by step. Before and after each online Zoom meeting, I always had long meetings with the instructors. Before the meeting, we helped each other to prepare for the meeting ahead of time. As soon as the meeting ends, we reviewed and processed it together, discussed what worked and what didn’t, and tried to propose solutions to help us making it better next time.

Social workers need to learn practice skills, not only basic facts. Through discussion posts and structured papers, students are encouraged to think critical and deeper, and get the opportunity to practice their writing skills as well. The instructors can also get to know our online students’ experiences, perspectives and growth from reading their written assignments. They can have some inspiring wisdom exchanges with students through written feedback. These level of deep communications are extremely important for online students who rarely meet with us in person.

The online program has been very convenient for our students, because of the flexibility it offers. The online program can also provide access to MSW education. It provides a unique and valuable learning opportunity to students in need, especially those who live in rural area or have to work full time. I am thankful to have the honor to work with our hard-working learning and teaching team, and getting to know the stories behind the scene. Now, I understand better how important it is to support students and faculty in the online program. I cherished the online teaching/learning opportunity more, after I understood how much effort it requires to operate smoothly.

By: Shu Zhou, GCSW Ambassador, 5th year PhD Cohort

Time Management as a Dual Degree Student

The key to time management as a dual degree student is to prioritize. Figure out which assignment or reading will take the longest time to complete. If a deadline is missed, how severely will it impact your grade? These are some of the things that I do to keep track of my assignments. Since I am a very visual person, the tools I use to manage my time are also visual.

Before the start of every semester, I hand draw a one-page schedule of what my week will look like. I use different colors to block out time slots that represent my classes, work, internship, family, and social time. I also include a slot for self-care.

Although this helps me divide up time through tasks, it does not list out my daily activities. With the use of a weekly and monthly planner, I write down my assignments and deadlines. I use color coordination for this – green is for my law school assignments and purple is for my social work assignments.

Lastly, I use iCalendar for scheduling my classes, work, internship clients, meetings, and social events. I also use it for assignment deadlines and to prioritize my assignments. Through this, I receive daily reminders about upcoming due dates.

Whether you are a dual degree student or a singular degree student, time management is essential to being successful in grad school. I have learned that it is best to figure out what works for you and stick with it.

By: Mahin Ansari, GCSW Ambassador, Hybrid Cohort

Jumping in: Pursuing an MSW as an Advanced Standing Student Immediately After Graduation

I decided to pursue a masters in social work during my junior year of undergrad, and I knew that I wanted do so immediately after graduating. I thought that if I waited to pursue a masters, I might not want to go back to school. I learned about the advanced standing option from one of my professors and this is when I started researching MSW programs. I was extremely interested in pursuing an advanced standing program due to the advantages, such as graduating in a year. When my senior year began, I started applying and I received my acceptance into the GCSW in April. I was nervous as graduation was quickly approaching and I was going to begin a new chapter. I was afraid that completing my masters in a year would be too challenging and that I would not succeed.

After going through the experience of being accepted and beginning the advanced standing program through the GCSW, I can say that a lot of my anxiety and fear has gone away. I attended a Welcome Session in early June, which helped answer questions and gave me an idea as to what to expect. Orientation took place in July, which was another opportunity to ask questions and I registered for classes. I also decided to complete my field placement during the fall/spring semesters, so I had to tackle the task of setting up interviews and attending them during the summer as well. Overall, the process was easier than I expected and this was due to the GCSW staff. The GCSW staff has been extremely helpful and informative, not only through the process of applying and starting the program but also during my time as a student.

I think that pursuing a MSW immediately after graduation was beneficial as I have been able to implement study skills that I developed during my undergraduate education. I have also kept my routine the same since I completed an internship and coursework my senior year of undergrad. I will begin my second semester in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited. I encourage any future students, advanced standing or not, to ask questions and get involved. Although jumping in and pursuing an MSW as an advanced standing student can seem challenging, it is achievable!

By: Paola Salazar, GCSW Ambassador, Advanced Standing Cohort

Halfway There – Celebrating Milestones in the Program, Every Success Counts

There’s something exciting about being halfway through something. A project, paper, or assignment, there’s something exciting about the knowledge that you have only halfway to go. Being halfway through your Master of Social Work degree is no different. Knowing that you’ve come far enough to have a solid grasp on the subject matter can instill confidence, excitement, and perhaps a little sadness.

Making it through half of the program means that I have enough skill and ability to successfully continue in the program. At this point, I have the confidence to say, “I can, and will, do this.” The confidence you build in the first half of the program can propel you to successfully complete the requirements of your area of specialized practice.

Reflecting on how far you’ve come in the program brings excitement. The effort you pour into successfully completing the first half of the program leads to the skills you need to delve into the area of specialized practice that will help guide your future as a Social Worker. The feeling can spark a motivation to finish the program strong. I embrace this excitement as a Social Worker in training as it furthers my passion for the material I’m studying and the future that awaits.

With the completion of the first half of the program, it is possible to feel a bit of sadness. My cohort has really become my GCSW family. We take classes together, commiserate about the challenges of graduate school, and spend time getting to know one another in a way that has bonded us as colleagues and friends. While I mainly feel an excitement, I am also aware that I only have four more semesters of studying with my cohort. However, I have a feeling that we are going to be a supportive network of colleagues who remain close, even after graduation.

I’m halfway there! Four more semesters of classes and my second field placement are between me and graduating with my M.S.W. I’m working to remind myself to slow down and really enjoy what remains of the program. All of the things I’m experiencing now that I’m halfway through the program will inform the way that I finish my program and start my career as a Social Worker.

By: Joe Hartsoe, GCSW Ambassador, Hybrid Cohort

Field I & II – My Experience with Veterans

Ever since I made the decision to pursue my MSW, I have known that I want to work with the military population – active duty, veterans, military families, etc. I have had experience working with active duty airmen and their families, which I absolutely loved. Little did I know there was such a vast difference between active duty and veterans when I asked for a field practicum at the Veteran’s Services Office at University of Houston. University of Houston currently has over 1,000 veterans and service members in its student body.

Due to personal conflicts, I had to begin my practicum in May 2018 instead of January, and complete 400 hours in the span of three months. I was on campus all day, Monday through Thursday, from May to mid-August. In the office, there are always students either studying or hanging out, working on the computers, eating in the kitchen or napping on the couch between classes. The VSO is their safe place where they can essentially be exactly who they are and connect with others who have served. The director, Celina Dugas (LCSW), works round the clock to ensure each student’s unique needs are met to the best of their abilities; she is their advocate and voice. She has created a place where student vets can come and speak freely without fear of judgment. There is also the UH Student Veteran Association, a network of students who are connected to the military in some way and participate together in volunteer events and special outings put on by the elected student officials. The SVA provides additional support on multiple levels to its members. They are the voice of the veteran student population.

As a military spouse with some experience in the dialect, I had my foot somewhat in the door from the get-go. I was working with student veterans who mainly served in the Army and Marines, and a lot of them had multiple deployments and experience in combat. By a month into my practicum, I had gained some of the student’s trust and was fortunate enough to have them open up to me about themselves. I carefully asked questions about their lives, wanting them to know I genuinely cared and was eager and interested to talk to them. Some had it really tough before they joined the military and while they were serving. I heard stories that truly broke my heart. I realized quickly that veterans feel alone and vulnerable when they leave the military, especially veterans that come back to school. They are essentially disconnected from the normal student body population because of their experiences, which makes sense given the things they have seen and encountered. This makes their needs so much more distinct than your average student.

What I gained this past summer was a unique look into how student veterans are navigating life after serving – juggling families, careers, school, and personal struggles just like all of us, but with a certain humble nobility about them (although they would probably laugh at the idea of that). I’ve always been in awe of those who choose to serve, and I was not disappointed by the group of students I was lucky enough to get to know. This practicum taught me that active duty and veterans do not have the same needs or feelings – they are two separate worlds that military social workers must be able to tap into. I’m still not quite sure where I’ll end up when I graduate, but if I’m lucky enough to work with veterans, I feel like this practicum and the special people I’ve met have given me some tools to bring positive change to veterans everywhere.

By: Amanda Shoemaker, GCSW Ambassador, Online Cohort

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The Reason I Chose Social Work

It’s very common that when someone hears you are a social worker, you may sometimes get a very judgmental stare. Some may even think all social workers do is snatch children from their parents however, being a social worker is far more than that. Social work is a profession devoted to helping people function the best they can in their environment. Social Work is all about understanding and striving to improve the lives of people in society. Social workers listen to peoples’ needs, from young children to people struggling with addictions, and help them to cope and improve their happiness. Being a social worker, I can make a different person’s life easier every day and what better profession than that. There is no one setting or title to a social worker. We function in any given environment to alleviate the needs of a multitude of communities. I chose the graduate college of social work because I believe that everyone deserves a chance at a peaceful life no matter their economic background, race, religion, sexual orientation, or any other factor. I aspire to be part of the change and being able to touch the lives of others is something I have always had a passion for.

By: Joeall Riggins