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


New City Living

I come from a place where it would rain 9 out of 12 months, snow during winters, and on many occasions the sun would shine, it would rain, hail and go back to being sunny again all in one day. The PNW was my home for the last 22 years but now Houston is where I call home. I thought I’d always live in Oregon with my family but when my mom moved to Atlanta it opened my eyes to so much more this world has to offer.

Why Houston? I wanted something different where I could feel out of place but comfortable at the same time and I’ve gained that here. I drove from Corvallis, Oregon all the way to Houston, Texas for this program and as soon as I got here I could already see that there are so many differences between the two. So much more food to enjoy, the weather is completely new to me, I can go down the street and find a beauty shop with everything I need, the crisscrossed highways and the main thing that stood out to me was the diversity of the city. Oregon as a whole isn’t comparable. I can admit, it was a tough transition moving because I didn’t know anyone, I don’t have family here and everything was completely new to me. There were many times where I would get depressed because I would see my friends back home together, and family gatherings that I couldn’t attend because I was now so far away. How was I going to get out of this slump, how do I meet people, will I ever get out of the house?

A few things I did was first, since I am in a historically black sorority, Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. I attended Greek life events that took place on campus to try and connect to other members of my sorority as well as our council as a whole and I was able to link with a few people, exchange numbers and start building connections there. This was very helpful for me because they were like my first life line for where are the good spots to eat, best grocery stores, places to get my car looked at if I have any problems, hair salons, and all sorts of things that I wouldn’t have known on my own. Second, I was able to connect with people in my cohort for class. I feel this was a lot easier because we were together for class every time and we started to get familiar with one another and through this I am able to talk to them about anything because we grew closer.

Third, I took the initiative to get out of my comfort zone a little bit and just went out and did things on my own in order to familiarize myself with what’s around me. Don’t get me wrong I still don’t know my way around everywhere; GPS is my best friend but just driving around downtown, or around my apartment to just see what’s out there was helpful. And when I had family or friends come to visit from out of town I was able to take them around and even more so this time get out and walk around with them to experience the nitty gritty. Lastly, this doesn’t really apply to everyone but I needed to look for a part-time job and through that, the coworkers I have are extremely nice and are always telling me about events that are coming up, giving advice on things and just helping me when I need it.

I have been in Houston for 8 months now and I still have my days where I just go to class, come home and stay the rest of the day, or spend my weekends watching sports all day, I enjoy that. Some of the things I’ve been able to do have been attending many Greek events, checking out bars and different clubs, shopping in the Galleria and seeing the water wall. The zoo is free for UH students so I went there as well. I am a sports fanatic and one of the most exciting things I got to do was attend the Super Bowl experience down at the Discovery Green park and see everything that it had to offer. I’ve learned that it’s going to take some time to get acquainted with such a big city as Houston and I’m excited to do so because it’s never ending and I’m always down for something new to get out and experience.

By: Queen Dash


Surviving as a Student Mom

a full-time student with a part-time job is challenging. On top of that, I just had my first baby in October 2016. Fortunately, I am surviving as a student mom with the tremendous support from the GCSW I have received.

First of all, my professors and colleagues have demonstrated a huge amount of understanding and support regarding the big change in my life. Those who had their kids when they were students showed me particular care and empathy. They gave me a lot of their best parenting tips as working moms, from making a pumping schedule to selecting daycare. These tips are very helpful for me, an international student who is not familiar with the local system.  My professors also gave some flexibility for my coursework schedule, so I can have the baby in the middle of the semester without having too much stress about assignments and grades.

Second, the university and college gave me some flexible maternity leave. Although it was unpaid, I was allowed to choose the length and the start and ending dates, based on my unique needs. After I returned to work in November 2016, my teaching assistant position also gave me flexible work hours with no location restriction. I had the opportunity to work whenever and wherever I wanted. It saved me a lot of travel time and allowed me to spend more time with my baby. This time is very important for my baby and myself as we develop our bond.

Third, the university and college facilities are student mom friendly. On the second floor in the GCSW building, a lactation room is available for nursing and pumping purposes. As a teaching assistant, I also had some semi-private office space on the third floor to use as needed. In addition, UH daycare is by far the best daycare we have visited. The classrooms and playground are huge, beautiful, and clean. The teachers and staff are educated, experienced, and friendly. The price is competitive among other daycares with the same level of quality. It also offers student discounts and financial aid.

Some strategies have helped me to make my new student mom journey smooth. The most important thing is early and clear communication. When I was pregnant, I discussed my academic and employment plans with the PhD program. The program was able to provide the most support after knowing my and my family’s needs better.

Time management is another important skill for student moms. I reprioritized everything in my life after being pregnant, and again, after my baby was born. I had to make the decision to give up some things I like and used to do. For example, I was no longer able to attend the face-to-face student ambassador meeting. However, there are always alternatives. With help from technology, I can join the meetings online using Zoom software.

Being a mom has brought me so much joy but it is not easy being a student mother. Sometimes, I miss my son while I am at school or work. I feel fortunate to be in an environment that has supported my motherhood journey every step of the way while keeping me on track in my professional goals.

By: Shu Zhou

In the News

As I ponder the opportunity to march down the aisle to join the ranks of over 650,000 social workers across the nation, I can’t help but find myself thinking about the responsibility that comes with that title. I think about the commitment to social justice that our profession has held near and dear in this country since the days of Jane Addams in the late 1800’s. I think about the magnificent impact that all of us upholding this commitment could have in the current political climate.

As social workers, who bear witness to struggle, social injustice, and intolerable pain, we will certainly be called upon to serve as a candle of hope, for our children and the many, many people that we aspire to serve. While the election results represent what a large portion of our country believes is the path to “safety” and “economic stability”, the other half of our great country sought a different road – to an equitable and inclusive society where opportunity, safety and freedom would be shared by all of its people, regardless of our background, beliefs, or status.

In America, democracy is a government of, by, and for all its people. I look forward to each of us as aspiring social workers to remember that it our duty to our fellow man/woman to pledge to combat racism, homophobia, xenophobia and sexism no matter where it shows up, including in the form of a new administration that governs our nation.

As I end this post, I would like to leave you with a quote from a great champion of justice, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In 1965, in a speech at Dinkier Plaza Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, Dr. King said, “History will have to record the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and other violent actions of the bad people but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people. Our generation will have to repent not only the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light.”

Additionally, Dr. King has been attributed to saying, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

By: Terran Fontenot


Saying Goodbye

170120-obama-leaving-white-house-featureIn 2008, our country elected Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American President in American history. At the time, he offered something no other public figure could: hope and change. To a future social worker like me, hope and change meant that wonderful possibilities could exist! He was the symbol for a variety of political and social issues with hopes that those issues could be overcome. Many of us had deep admiration for the man who was funny, sensible, graceful, compassionate, an intellectual, a great orator, a loving father, a devoted husband, and an overall good human being. To me, his candidacy promised “one America” and my whimsical thinking of a post-racial United States.

However, in contrast, the past eight years we saw our country deeply divided against itself. When many were ready for and seeking change, others saw their reality turned upside down. When some saw promise, others saw threat. Social progress looked like an unintended hazard. To the disappointment of many and the delight of others, there is the pledge to undo the Obama policies, to erase them as if they had been scribbled down with a pencil on a drawing pad. I believe part of this disagreement comes from the deep divide in our political parties, another part of it comes from president Obama’s leadership style (as his team always maintained that they don’t do theater) and the last part comes from implicit bias. Yet, through it all (The never-ending wars and drone strikes, the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, fights to address climate change and national security, efforts at education and gun control, an open Guantanamo and republican obstructionism) this is what held fast: dignity, grace, integrity, and a pleasure to be of service.

In addition, every presidency had debates about race and culture but none quite like the Obama years. For example, we witnessed the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement and an upsurge in white identity politics. We have seen a rebirth in the fight for civil rights, with protests against police brutality and unjustified murders, as well as increasing acceptance of LGBTQIA rights. At the same time, millions of families were torn apart as Obama’s administration deported more undocumented immigrants than any other president in our young country’s history. Black and Brown children are still being funneled through the school-to-prison pipeline. While all this was happening, we watched president Obama try to walk the narrow road on police brutality, knowing that if he were to voice too much support, he would be attacked with claims that he is anti-police and un-American. And through all of this, I am still not ready to say goodbye because this is much more than people of color and LGBTQIA ever had – the chance to vote for principles instead of against those who offer the most harm, a president who saw US as human beings and not a block of voters, the knowledge that people looked at someone with skin like mine and decided yes, he is qualified to lead this country.

Just as President Obama, much of what social workers try to do is based on actions taken in the political arena. Politics are important to our field and we should be fully involved because legislation, good or bad, will have a huge impact on us and the communities we serve. So, what then can social workers take away from the Obama years? Well, he taught us that it is important to hold onto our principles and ideals that brought us into this occupation, and to embrace the possibilities for change. By modeling this process during his presidency he gave us a renewed economy, marriage equality, the Affordable Care Act, the Fair Sentencing Act, Federal divestment from for-profit prisons and the appointment of our first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice. This is what the social work profession has always been about: social change and social justice. A field devoted to the advancement of humanity and assisting in making positive differences in people’s lives despite enormous challenges. One of the reasons that attract individuals to social work is the wish to uplift people, families, and communities to improve the quality of lives. I am certain that what has been ignited in most of us is our own possibility to become greater than who we are. Something that President Obama spoke of in many of his eloquent speeches.

We live in an era of technological advancements and globalization and for many, this has meant anger, fear and hate. While negative partisanship has always existed, it’s nourished in our online era by people’s ability to locate information from news sources and social-media that feeds and intensify their biases. I believe that one of the greatest disappointments of the Obama Presidency was that the Republicans were unable to separate their political differences from the fact that the president himself is an admirable man. I guess this was a problem for me because I see the genuine goodness in our president and the love he has for our nation. There are many personal heroes in my life: my best friends, professors, a protective brother, and my parents. But I also benefited from the example of a man whose public life showed that we are not defined or defeated by the adversities in our life. During these eight years, things were not easy but his distinctive and unique style has produced a kind of wistfulness in me and I will truly miss the 44th president of the United States of America! On Jan. 20, the political side of me will accept president-elect Trump, but the social worker in me will be saddened by the final signs of President Barack Obama’s farewell. For at an essential time in my life, he illustrated, modeled, and provided me his remarkable ideas of what hope and change could be and for that, I’ll miss him and the example he set for us.

By: Constance Dixon


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

Homesick Recipe

Attending the GCSW has been a great experience. Our diverse student population is made up of students from across the world. Many of those students like myself have come across the country to settle into Houston. I am originally from Lexington, KY where I lived my entire life prior to coming to Houston. There was this build up of excitement about coming to a new city and exploring all it had to often.  With the help of my mother and sister I drove 17 hours across the country to settle into this new life.

Twenty four hours after my arrival my mother and sister left to catch their plane and I was off to set up my apartment. I think after about two days of being there I started to feel very lonely and almost empty. I was no longer excited about being Houston or attending the GCSW and had many thoughts of returning home. At times I thought maybe I’m just nervous, this new place, new people and I just have not found my way yet. These thoughts would either turn into short spurts of happiness or tears, I was trying to convince myself that everything would be okay. During all this is when I finally realized that it may not be fear or sadness, I was homesick. I called my mom at least twice in the first week to tell her that I was coming home and each time she told me to give it some time, so I did.

I wish I could tell you that after a couple days I was fine and I started having the time of my life but that is simply not true. The recipe that helped my homesickness started at the GCSW with my cohort. I became acquainted with people and over time formed friendships. These are people I studied with, went out to eat with and called in times of need.  These genuine relationships became the closest thing that I had to family.

Throughout my time here I have also gained extended cohort family through classes and organizations that I joined. During my short time I joined the Macro Network, which is a small organization of macro students here the GCSW. The meetings are just monthly, but provide a chance to meet new faces and learn about different experiences going on in the Houston area. This small group helped me navigate my concentration and granted experiences that kept me focused on my education.

Aside from the GCSW I decided to get a small part time job to occupy time and of course earn side money. I started working in the Galleria area every weekend in retail. This was not my favorite job by far but what it did allow me to do was assimilate into the Houston culture. The mall is also the perfect place to see just how diverse Houston is. It was amazing to see various cultures represented and interact with people from all over the world.

Being a person of faith, finding a worship place that fit me was very important. I was able to find a great church home where I met new faces who soon became friends. Gaining them was a great way to not only make friends but a sense family inside of the community. Having them in my life brings a sense of peace that is much needed when away from family.

My homesick recipe is simple, get well acquainted with your cohort, get involved in some of the many organizations that the GCSW has to offer, use your own special interests to venture out in Houston and make sure to have fun while doing it.  This is the recipe that worked for me and it has proven to be efficient because I am entering my last semester here at the GCSW.  My hope with this blog is that it will help some student, who like me, traveled across the country and needs help to get through. YOU CAN DO IT!

By: Kayla Gill