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

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Coming Back to School After 10 Years. Here’s My Experience.

I was ecstatic to find out that I was going to be a student of the GCSW program this year.  It’s been over 10 years since I graduated with my B.A. in Psychology from U of H main campus. On the first day of Foundations, when I walked across the University of Houston campus, it was definitely a bit surreal for me.  All the original buildings still exist from before, Cullen, Heyne, Agnes Arnold; just to name a few.  Along the way there was plenty of new buildings and structures that make U of H seem like a brand new campus.  I couldn’t help but smile with pride to see how much the campus has grown and continues to grow in its facilities and programs.

I found myself still parking in the original parking lot from my undergrad years and walking the same route to familiar buildings.  In fact, I used to take Sociology classes in the Graduate School of Social Work Building as an undergrad student.  I would have never imagined that I would be back a decade later calling this building my Graduate College where I take classes for the next two years as I build lifelong relationships with classmates and faculty.

As someone who came back to get their Masters after being out of school for a while, I am loving being in the classroom again.  It’s definitely a different experience being a student this time around.  For one, I have a lot more responsibilities to juggle.  I have to work, take care of my family, and do my internship hours as I maintain grades.  This part of being a student definitely makes it harder.  However, I find the rest of my experience as a returning student to be pretty advantageous, like getting a fresh start but with added perks.

I feel like being a student in my mid-thirties gives me a different lens than when I was in my early to mid-twenties.  I have a better sense of direction of where I am in life now and I am able to genuinely appreciate the opportunity to learn. I definitely feel like I am more focused as a student during this time in my life.  I am a lot more interested in the material in class and motivated to learn as much as I can as opposed to getting the class over with.  I also feel like I am gaining a lot more from my experience in field because I embrace every opportunity as a learning opportunity whereas in my twenties I was too worried about “knowing it all” and being too afraid to mess up.  There’s been times where I have received feedback from my instructors about myself and/or my work that I had to really self-reflect on and it helped me become a better student. I know I wouldn’t be able to do that in my undergrad years.   I also really appreciate being in class with a diverse cohort with peers of all ages, backgrounds and experiences. I am eager to learn from all of them even if conflicting viewpoints have.  I feel as an older and more experienced student I am lot more flexible with myself, and those around me.  I know that life is unpredictable and we can’t plan for everything.   I come to accept I will probably mess up more often than not and I’m ok with that because I am in this program to grow my skills.  For me, I think this was a great time of my life to obtain my Master’s and who knows, maybe a PhD will be waiting for me next.

By: Jen Shen

PhD and Getting Published

After practicing Social work for 10 years in Singapore, it dawned upon me that my knowledge was stagnant and needed rejuvenation and innovation. This is when I decided to leave my 24/7 work at the Female residential center as a Center Head and move to Houston to be a Master student. I started with my MSW in Jan 2016 as an advanced standing program and decided to dedicate my time to build my clinical skills in Social work. In the course of my wonderful learning experience, I realized that I had questions about my past work with female offenders that was always lingering at the back of my mind. I chose to do an independent study with Dr Monit Cheung in my last semester on a broader juvenile delinquency topic. Information on our paper is here:

Menon, S.E., & Cheung, M. (2018). Desistance-focused treatment and asset-based programming for juvenile offender reintegration: A review of research evidence. Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal, 35, 459-476. doi:10.1007/s10560-018-0542-8 (Authorship: 70-30)

Yes, you can get published even in your Masters program! We have such wonderful mentors as Professors who never fails to nudge you to the next level. This publication was a year- long process (partly because I had to deliver my baby in the summer and needed to take a break from it) but it was all worth it. Scholastic work takes time and effort and bringing this up to publishable quality was no easy feat. However, this experience was a breakthrough for me, in the area of evidence based practice. Before my MSW, the concept of evidence based practice was purely academic and I would nod to say I understood what it meant. Now, I really know what it means, with all my heart, soul and mind. The process helped me to refine my interest area and offered me an opportunity to explore this area in depth. The research inquiry drew me towards the PhD program. If I wanted to develop an expertise in this area, I needed more time to drill down on the specific aspects and seek guidance from other Professors.

The PhD was never in the cards for me. I loved working on the ground and working directly with clients. Till today, I still love and miss that very much. However, I have taken an arial view of my career in Social work and realized that if I wanted to help my clients better, I needed to be better at what I do. To help a larger number of clients, I needed to find or create evidence based interventions to support the work I do. Moreover, if I wanted to contribute in the development of future Social workers, I had the best chance of doing that in the academic field. It was never my goal but my goals shifted during the time of my MSW program and so I took the leap and applied for the PhD program. I’m in my 2ndyear and I’m learning more than I could ever imagine! I would love to talk more about the PhD program if you are interested! My email is sulizmenon@gmail.com. Here’s a picture of our work published in the Child and adolescent journal.

By: Sujeeta Menon

Midterm Season as a Social Work Student

To say that I was simply stressed during this past midterm season is a complete understatement.
I was exhausted.
Most students have similar feelings of dread and anxiety around exams, particularly midterms that carry a large portion of your grade. However, as a dual degree MSW and MPP student, I was struggling hard with managing the differences between my classes, the expectation of the professors, and the sheer amount of content that I needed to be studying in order to get a good grade on my midterms.

I had a group project for my Administrative Social Work class, a Statistics midterm, and a Fundamentals of Policy Analysis midterm (which did not feel fundamental to me- imagine learning an entire undergraduate microeconomics class in four weeks) all in the same week. My social work class was really reflective and required a lot of collaborative work with my partners, but my MPP classes were demanding that I understand calculations, memorize formulas, learn how to interpret statistical data, etc. I really felt as if I was at my wits ends – but I forced myself to take time off of work, stick to a clear study schedule, and prioritize assignments and content based on the time frame I was allotted.

I was so relieved that it was over, particularly since I had really struggled with the math-heavy subjects from my MPP program. I had such a sense of accomplishment in myself. I had never in my life imagined that I (who double majored in history and political science in an effort to avoiding taking math after College Algebra) had just taken two graduate level midterms and left them confidently! My world was shook.

Anyway! It felt like a major win for myself. I made sure to spend the week after partaking in luxurious self-care in the form of naps and snacks. For any who are interested in pursuing a dual degree or balancing lots of outside commitments with their MSW, always remember that time management makes all the difference when things begin to feel overwhelming.

By: Stephanie Gomez

Completing Field Placement I: Yes, You Can make it to the Fall

400 hours. 16.6-24 hour days. 10- 40 hour work weeks. That’s a lot of time. We all have a host of things we could be doing in 400 hours. The Field Placement I is 400 hours and applies to students in the foundation portion of the program (students that enter the GCSW without their BSW) wherein students spend time working in a social work setting.

The field placement is structured so that individuals enter agencies and gain experience under the supervision of a Licensed Social Worker. The great thing about Social Work is that it is broad and flexible in design. I did my field placement at a hospice agency but some of my friends did their field placements with nonprofit agencies focused on increasing economic literacy for low-income families. The 400 hours you spend working with a Social Worker and their agency can open doors to new experiences and skills that you didn’t previously have.

As a Hybrid student (the enrollment model where students come to campus a few Saturdays a month and take the rest of their coursework online), I am working full time while taking 8 credit hours. Field placement starts for my program in the spring semester and continues through the summer. January-August may not seem like a long time, but balancing 40 hours of work with 8 credit hours and a minimum of 13 hours of field work, all while trying to be present with my spouse and friends, can make me tired.

Never fear! You can make it. Let me say that again: You. Can. Make. It! The first month of field can feel like balancing a few dozen plates at a time but when you find your groove, that’s when the magic happens. As you adjust in the agency you are doing your field work, it becomes a set routine and students can, and often do, find opportunities to learn and grow into their professional social work identity.

If you feel like you’re overwhelmed in the Spring and Summer, the fall will come and you, like numerous students before you, can come out on the other side, ready to face the future demands of getting your Master’s degree. Once the field placement ends and it’s time to head into the fall, you are beginning your advanced standing curriculum where you are diving into the deeper theory and practice of Social Work.

400 hours. 16.6-24 hour days. 10-40 hour work weeks. Some of the most informative experiences of my foundation experience and the completion of a field experience that will guide the second half of my program. If you ask me, that’s a pretty good way to spend 400 hours.

By: Joe Hartsoe

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

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