On April 1 and 4 a representation of junior and senior social work students showcased their BSW field education experiences for the St. Kate’s and St. Thomas communities. Below, these students describe some of the highlights of these experiences, including the skills they developed and how their placements informed and shaped their professional development.
My supervisor was amazing and made sure I was getting what I wanted out of the experience. Going into it, I thought I wanted to work with the elderly population and now I'm sure that I do. It solidified what I wanted to do and gave me exposure to hospice, which is where I think I want to go [with my career].
My grandparents raised me. My grandpa got sick with pancreatic cancer and we had a social worker come in with hospice and she was amazing - so caring – and made sure all of our needs were met and questions answered. She corrected any problems that were going on and I had a whole conversation with her about what she does and I realized that that's what I want to do: help people work through different problems, coordinate different resources. She helped me realize that death isn't really the end of everything, and that there's a lot that goes into helping people die with dignity that others don't think about, but that social workers think about...so I decided that's what I wanted to do.
[This placement] really opened my eyes to people who are living in poverty - what that looks like and what those challenges are. I really got on the advocacy train. So many of our clients were on MFIP (MN Family Investment Program: MN's program that assists low-income families with children to economic stability through work) on $437 per month and trying to find housing, pay their bills, and live a sustainable lifestyle...and it's absolutely NOT doable.
There are two areas I'm interested in: one is the education piece for these types of clients: getting them more education and job training so they can get out of poverty; the other is advocacy: what can we do to raise the minimum wage? what can we do to make MFIP more sustainable for families?
I've been working in a youth development program, mostly working with high schoolers. I'm a career and college counselor and so we work on increasing opportunities for our youth. It's been great working with teens. At first it was a little intimidating since I wasn't sure how they'd react with me since I'm only 21, but it's been a great experience learning how to interact with them… [It’s been ] great "group work "experience, talking in front of people, and learning how to engage a group versus individuals. My favorite part is working with the teenagers, and it's been a great experience since I hope to one day be a school counselor - and so it's been a good fit for me.
I managed a case load of 25 to 30 youth and I worked with them to meet the recommendations that they had been given from the court. I met with each client every two weeks and I worked with them to assess for: needs, strengths, and barriers. From there, we created a case plan to meet the needs that were presented and we took the opportunity to use their time on probation to meet the needs that they had.
[I used] a lot of communication and interviewing skills, working with clients who don't necessarily want to talk with you, and really building relationships with them; really meeting them "where they're at,” and celebrating the "small successes." I definitely used the "strengths-perspective."
What I enjoyed most was seeing youth succeed and get off of probation, and really getting a feel for what they wanted to do with their lives. A lot of times youth came in on the case load very resistant, but by the end, through the relationship we built with them, you're really a team and you're working together.
I'm really interested in the criminal justice system and how kids are being routed into the system, so I want to take my experience forward and try to work with youth in more of a community-building way, to do some preventative measures before they get into the system.
I think that social work is the best major because it looks at every person in a holistic way. It looks at the bio-psycho-social and evaluates what's really going on and meets every person where they're at, individually.
Some exciting things we've done included working on a bill that [was introduced] this session, so we've been able to attend hearings. Going to the Capitol has been really eye-opening and amazing macro-work [practice], in addition to the micro-work we've been doing with our groups. [We’ve had] a lot of opportunities to work in groups, which allowed us to practice the “planned change process” from beginning to end. We also [utilized] a lot of written communication skills… [including] grant writing and fundraising opportunities.
Working in a prison setting was a really unique way to see the way that macro policies affect the lives of clients on a micro-level. Another interesting thing was applying theory to practice in such a unique context as incarceration. It really offered a lot of practical application of the theory we learned in class.
I used all the skills from our "Communication and Interviewing" class because I had to ask a lot of hard questions. I also got to use professional skills. Working on an interdisciplinary team can be very challenging because every profession has different ethics and a different point of view, so my communication and interviewing skills came in handy when talking with some of my co-workers as well. Using accessible language with families - not using jargon - is a skill that I worked on. I also used a lot of family systems theory to look at what systems are impacting the family's life - both positive and negative - and ways that I could intervene to help the family.
One of the things I really appreciated about the placement was that we were given a lot of freedom and a lot of opportunities for leadership. One of the biggest projects that was thought of and executed by the field students was the "flash mob" at the State Capitol. The whole process was really exhilarating.
The other thing that this placement did for me was to show me that this was a possible career path and that it is a social work career path. We hear a lot about the number of clinical and case worker jobs available to social workers, but seeing that you can get a social work degree and do this type of [policy] work and that there are jobs available… It solidified for me that I want to be working with communities.
We worked with several different organizations and with businesses. The way we engaged with people was very different depending on who we were talking to, so we had to learn to change the way that we established relationships with people, depending on their role and our role. A huge part of advocacy, when it gets down to campaigning, is that HOW you educate people is really important. Sometimes we look at issues on a very large scale and they seem too massive to tackle. So we broke things down on a day-to-day basis and that was something that makes the issues feel like you can do something about them. So whether it's calling your legislator, or doing a presentation about minimum wage, or having conversations with your family members or a person in your economics class...THOSE are the things that are huge tools that we don't usually think about and that we used on a day-to-day basis [in this placement].