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

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