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Students bring diversity, experience to the program

By Sharon Thomas, Director of Recruitment, Admissions and Financial Aid

During my junior year of college at the University of Michigan, I found social work — or rather social work found me. I had spent my undergraduate career searching for a major and discipline that addressed families and communities in need as well as creative intervention approaches and human service from a strengths-based perspective rather than a deficit model. I also needed a place where I believed I could make a difference.

Finally, one day a college senior I greatly respected who shared similar interests asked me a simple question: “Have you ever considered social work?” Once I researched the field and its mission, I was hooked! My goal in life was to now become a professional social worker and to find an MSW program that would prepare me for this journey.

After researching numerous masters programs across the country, I decided to apply to UNC-Chapel Hill for fall enrollment in 1996. The School of Social Work’s national ranking, incredible faculty and the annual Black Experience Workshop directed by the late Dr. Audreye Johnson drew me to the program, not to mention the chance to break from the Midwest winters! I placed a call to the School’s admissions office and was greeted by the warm southern drawl of Linda Wilson, student services manager, who mailed me an information packet on the program. Needless to say, I was elated when I received my offer of admissions to UNC; I even sent my deposit without ever visiting the state of North Carolina.

When I reflect on my cohort and time in the program, it’s hard to believe how much has changed. My full-time cohort included 39 people with only five (14%) students of color. This fall, we will welcome 68 full-time students with 17 (25%) representing students of color. Just like today’s students, I graduated with an amazing group of advanced standing and distance education (formerly called part-time) students. My concentration year experience was definitely enriched by the diversity and life experience that the part-time students brought to the program as well as the social work practice knowledge and experience that the advanced standing students shared.

This fall, the School will enroll 320 new and returning students in its MSW program. I believe that today’s students are motivated to enter the field of social work for the same reasons that their peers pursued careers years ago: We are all committed to improving the quality of life for individuals, families and communities in need.

What has changed is the range of communities students seek to serve and the range of practice opportunities. Never before has there been such an interest in international social work settings and in serving our global community. We have seen a substantial increase in students with international human service experience, including with the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps, and from those with second language skills, particularly Spanish.

It has been an honor and privilege to return to the School of Social Work as a faculty member and to serve as the director of recruitment, admissions and financial aid. It’s hard to believe that it has been 14 years since my first trip to North Carolina and my first meeting with School admissions officials in the same office where I now work every day.

I’m pleased to continue the School’s commitment to recruiting some of the most talented and dedicated students from across the country and across the globe.

This article is from our “School of Social Work’s 90th Anniversary” feature in the 2010 print edition of Contact Magazine