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


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

Just Try

cropped-graduation.jpgI wanted to get my master’s degree pretty much since I got my bachelor’s. The problem was I kept putting it off, and the longer I put it off, the harder it seemed. It felt like I was stuck in an impossible series of catch-22s. I remember thinking, “I can’t just stop working and go back to school full-time, but there is no way to juggle work and school. And, what would I get a degree in anyway? I have too many interests, and no degree I would ever be interested in seems worth the debt to do it. I definitely don’t want to go into debt, but how am I going to pay for it?” On, and on, and on, the record would play.

As those questions rolled around in my mind during the ten years since undergrad, one of the very best things I did for myself was go to therapy. I wasn’t in a crisis. I just wasn’t totally satisfied with my life. Over time, my therapist helped me to reconsider many of the ideas that had become “givens” to me, underlying assumptions about the world and myself that led to my dissatisfaction. One area of exploration was graduate school.

With his help, I eventually created a new “record” that sounded much different. It was a series of thoughts built on a newfound belief in trying. “Maybe I can go to school and work. And, maybe I don’t have to wait around until I figure out the perfect degree, I can just pursue one area I’m interested in. This therapy thing has been pretty magical, so maybe I can learn more about that and help others. There has to be a way to pay for school without going into debt.” And, as self-defeating as it may sound, a big comfort to me in the beginning was the thought that “If I hate it, I can quit.”

Well, I didn’t quit. I kept going, even when halfway through I was faced with a devastating personal loss. Making it through the worst of that experience while working and continuing grad school helped me to learn something way more important than any one thing I learned in class: I’m stronger and more capable than I ever imagined.

When it came up in conversation that I worked full-time as a teacher and went to grad school, people would often say something that I used to say myself: “Wow, I could never do that.” Over time, what I discovered and what I started to share with people (especially in my work as an Ambassador) was that we all have a reserve of energy and ability that is there when we need it. We don’t always tap into on a daily basis, but it’s there. And, we can utilize it to reach our goals.

If you haven’t had this realization yet, I invite you to reflect on what it is that you’ve been putting off or are unsure of how to do and then to figure out what it would look like to just try. I think in doing so you can have the same empowering realization about yourself as I did. Because I don’t think I’m special. I think we are all much stronger and more capable than we often give ourselves credit for. We see it in our clients; we can see it in ourselves. Also, I think life, with its inherent challenges, will introduce us all to this reservoir eventually, and we can help ourselves out by giving it a trial run in advance.

Paradoxically, while I was learning just how much more capable I am, it also became clear to me just how essential we are to each other. While, yes, I am the one who received the hood and the diploma. And, yes, I am capable of much more than I originally thought. However, this accomplishment wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the people in my life. As independent and self-sufficient as I’ve tried to be, I cannot escape the fundamental truth that we, humans, need each other. A truth that is encoded in the social work value that honors human relationships. My relationships, including those at the GCSW, helped me to see what was hidden in my blind spots, to get up when I was down, and to make it through grad school in order to achieve my long-held goal of earning my master’s.

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the ways people have showed up for me in the past three years (and longer). I’m grateful to the GCSW for giving me the opportunity to grow as a person and to expand my future possibilities with this degree. For those in a similar situation as I was, wondering how to work and go to school or even if a master’s is possible at all, I invite you, like I did, to just try.

By: Cassie Manley


As I begin my Spring 2017 semester at the Graduate College of Social Work, I have much to reflect on and look forward to. In my first semester, the Fall of 2016, I was balancing quite a load. In the midst of my foundation coursework, I was also working for my field practicum hours, a part-time job, and was planning my wedding to my now husband. Although this all sounds a bit much, I was honestly only able to do it smoothly and with joy because of my wonderful family and friends. Looking forward into the spring semester, I am excited for new classes. Plus, who doesn’t love a fresh start?

I am very excited to start off the Spring 2017 semester for many reasons other than a new class, work, and field schedule. For my field practicum site, we manage and help to facilitate Girls On the Run (GOTR), which is a non-profit program for girls in the 3rd through 8th grade. The GOTR mission is to inspire girls to be joyful, healthy and confident using a fun, experience-based curriculum which creatively integrates running. Outside of the GCSW, I work for YES Prep Public schools part time as my school campus’ executive assistant. Normally, I do most administrative tasks and project management, with low emphasis on direct student interfacing. However, my field instructor has encouraged and planned with me so that we can start a GOTR program at my YES campus, which is one of the YES campuses which did not have the program before now. Thus, I will be the leader responsible for managing and facilitating the start-up of this evidence-based program at my school. It will be a great opportunity for me to gain field hours, while growing professionally as a social worker and leader, and of course, while benefiting my field site, work place, and our clients. I look forward to these upcoming opportunities be a catalyst for social justice in both my workplace and my field practicum site, through opportunities that the Graduate College of Social Work has provided.

Lastly, as we breach the topic of moving forward, I cannot discuss 2017 without discussing this month’s current events and how they connect to our role as social workers and advocates. As many were with the news of our president-elect, I was shocked, sad, angry, and withdrawn. Among many issues, I was mostly shocked as to how someone with such opposing values and attitudes from that of me as a social worker could have the power to change my country and world. Many of the clients I have worked with in the past and wish to work for in the future are directly impacted by this person’s words and the actions he incites. For quite a while after the electoral news, I had a very hard time entertaining any conversation remotely related to it. Then, soon after, I turned my energy into reading more about my social-work related interests such as policy, community organizing, and more. Also, I started taking more time to listen—to listen to my own thoughts and to the thoughts of others more than ever. Listening and learning in this time may not have made me less disappointed or dissatisfied with the election results, but it did bring me peace, which in turn has given me the opportunity for action. Action—to think about how I want my career and life to reflect solutions for my frustrations or anger. With action, I’m also committed to have more courageous conversations and to speaking up more often, even when it’s tough or uncomfortable. I am proud that the coursework at the Graduate College of Social Work allows students to prepare for conversations, actions, and careers such as these. It is obvious that we as social workers and others in helping professions are needed more now than ever, but also, how lucky for us that we have the skills and knowledge to tackle real problems. Our work is cut out for us. We shall move forward with even more grit and determination than before.

By: Amanda Rocha

The Best Mentor I Have Ever Had

Finding a mentor in graduate school is extremely important for both MSW and PhD students. When you are confused and struggling, a mentor who knows you well can offer individualized and constructive advice to help you make well-informed decisions about important aspects of your academic life, like coursework, internships, volunteering and career planning. Their generous and honest sharing of the unspoken rules of graduate school can save you tons of time and unnecessary stress. Along your academic journey, mentors can also act your graduate school skills coach, facilitating your development in areas, such as time management, work-life balance, team work, personal growth, professional networking and self-care. Then, when you succeed in your endeavors, your mentor will also be the first to celebrate your accomplishments and encourage you to set even higher goals for yourself!

It is not always easy to find a good mentor due to factors such as willingness, availability, compatibility, and personal and professional styles. It is an amazing feeling when you find someone who is a good fit for you because you know who you can go to for just about any question. I find that I feel refreshed and relaxed after every single conversation with my mentor; I always leave the room with clearer thoughts and better solutions to my problems.

While mentors are essential for students who seek advice, an excellent mentor can play many additional roles. In my experience, my mentor has been my supervisor, professor, advisor, and friend as well, changing the course of my life as doctoral student. Over the past 2 years in the PhD program, I have been fortunate to have Dr. Monit Cheung as not only my mentor, but as the best mentor I have ever had. She has played so many important roles during my time here at GCSW and abroad. I am grateful that we chose each other for my PhD journey.

As a supervisor, she has been extremely understanding and patient with students like me, who have only had limited previous research experiences. Rather than being surprised or disappointed, she has trained me during every step and has allowed me time to learn and adjust. She has tried her best to maximize my growth as a student under her mentorship. When I was having trouble with my school-related finance, she cared about my struggling and helped following up on my payroll.

As a professor, Dr. Cheung has spent an unbelievable amount of time preparing her class lectures, and consistently updating her course syllabi and teaching materials. She encourages us to engage in college events such as faculty candidate interviews to support the college and learn from the experiences.

As an advisor, she has made herself available to me almost 24/7. In addition to our weekly face-to-face meeting, she replies to my emails very quickly, even when she is abroad. Her availability is very impressive and extremely helpful. She always respects me and my time, and arrives on time for our appointments. When she has very rarely been late, she informs me as early as she can, with detailed explanation and sincere apology. Though she is a full professor, she never acts as though her time is worth more than mine.

As a mentor, Dr. Cheung has advised me on a wide range of problems in my personal and professional life. She has spent her valuable time listening to me, showing sincere empathy, and offering practical advice. In addition, she and her family have generously prepared a lot of delicious free food at the college events and at their home parties. I couldn’t remember how many leftovers I have taken from these events to feed myself and my family. They all have helped to make ends meet on a tight student budget.

As a friend, she has shared her life stories and lessons with me. Her experiences have inspired me and I have learned so much from her wisdom. When my parents came to visit me from China, Dr. Cheung and her family took them out for lunch. My parents were impressed and touched by her thoughtful care for me. They left the U.S. happily with huge gratitude for Dr. Cheung and her family.

I have been in the U.S. for 7 years as an international student. I always want to go back to China and I have already started the count down. However, among the happy expectations for finally returning home, one piece of my heart feels sad. I know that sadness is connected to my relationship with Dr. Cheung, who is always my go-to person. I am so used to contacting her at any time for anything that I need help, and she is always available and helpful. I cannot imagine my post-graduation life without seeing her every week.

Dr. Cheung is my role model (although I don’t skip on sleep and food as much as she does!) and the light of my PhD life. I will be forever grateful for all of her love, advice, and contributions in every single aspect of my life!

By: Shu Zhou

If I Could Leave You With One Social Work Superpower

As social work students, we become equipped with a wealth of knowledge and practical resources to help our clients. Attending the GCSW program is like attending a superhero convention where you stop at different booths to acquire superpowers for helping those in need. “Got anxiety? Here, try Mindfulness.” “Got depression? Here, try psychotherapy and Prozac.” “Homeless? Here’s a list of shelters in Houston you can try.” “Fighting against racial discrimination? Stop here to fill your empowerment belt!” When we leave class and enter into our field placement, though we sometimes wonder why our superpowers are not working.

I arrived at my first year internship eager to use the skills on my tool belt with the residents at Freedom Place, a residential treatment center for girls who have been rescued from sex trafficking. I was excited to teach the residents a weekly dance class, for example, but things didn’t go as planned when in week one I attempted to show them how to do a plie and a tondue. By the second week, almost all the girls were just sitting along the walls, watching me dance, requesting their own songs. I was a stranger, asking them to be vulnerable with their bodies by moving through space in ways they had never attempted.

When I was 15, a very wise woman sat across from me at a Barnes and Noble and gave me simple, life changing advice. I was in the midst of a spiritual transformation and wanted to share what God was doing in my life with my family and friends, but nobody seemed to be listening. She said, “Tiff, people don’t care what you know until they know that you care.” It’s a bit of a familiar phrase, but the trick is figuring out what caring looks like for a social worker. I thought I would be able “fix” my friends and their problems just by telling them about Jesus. I had one tool in my tool belt, and I only knew one way to use it—but each of my friends and family members had different concerns, perspectives, and needs. Caring for them would require learning about those differences, adopting a multitude of approaches, and, honestly, carrying a heavier tool belt.

Once I realized the residents weren’t digging my ballet techniques or Taylor Swift jazz routine, I asked—out of desperation—what they were wanting to learn. “Hey Miss! Can you do the Nae Nae?” From then on, I tried to choose music and dance genres that fit their interests, skill levels, and cultures. I showed them that I cared: I taught hip hop and salsa, I left out the plies, and I got more participation.

More often than not, if people are seeking services from a social worker, they are in need of help; they are in a vulnerable position, and helping them requires care. Our tone, rhetoric, body language and other nuances can determine whether they’ll return next week for their therapy session, or never seek out help again. Our knowledge of interventions and evidence-based treatments is moot if we do not first establish a therapeutic alliance. This process of building rapport begins during assessment. It’s not rocket science; it is simply having the eyes and ears to notice struggle, denial, pain and strengths in a person. It’s the difference between recording parents’ marital status on an intake form, and noticing how a girl’s eyes welled up when she whispered “divorced.” It’s pointing out an overlooked success: “Wow! It’s amazing you finished high school on time with two toddlers at home. Not many people are that dedicated to their education.” Building this therapeutic alliance continues throughout the treatment process.

But here’s what’s hard about it: social work is a helping profession where you constantly pour out your kindness, patience and resources and usually don’t get anything back. Our clients have been through hard places! In most social contexts, when we are personable and warm it is reciprocated. However, our clients are not our friends.  It is like inserting quarters in a gum ball machine but never seeing that sweet multi-colored ball come spiraling down. That’s not to say social work or therapy is not rewarding: in this past year I’ve experienced many fulfilling moments. However, we can not expect clients to reciprocate the warmth and empathy we give. We offer this part of ourselves not to get something in return, but to create a safe place for clients to receive the help they need without experiencing shame.

Psycho-education is an essential aspect to any treatment intervention, but if it is coming from a stranger’s mouth it will fall on deaf ears. Building rapport provides the soil for cognitive shifts to eventually take root.

By: Tiffany Teate

Note to Self

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.

By: Anna Johnson