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MSW student eager to help others

Crystal Barnes spent her undergrad years at UNC certain that her professional path was leading her toward a career in occupational therapy. But shortly after earning a degree in psychology and exercise sports science, Barnes realized she wanted to do more.

“I know it sounds sort of cheesy, but I really just wanted to help people. That’s all I ever knew that I wanted to do,” she said. “And I figured with social work, that would give me a wider lens to help people in a lot of different ways.”

As a third-year student in the Triangle Distance Education Program, Barnes will graduate in May with an MSW degree. Though she’s open to opportunities, she would love to do social work in a healthcare setting, such as a hospital or specialty health clinic.

That she is now in a better position to pursue this goal is largely due, Barnes said, to the $3,500 scholarship she received from the School of Social Work’s Alumni Development Fund. For the past several years, she had worked full-time serving adults with mental health and developmental disabilities through UNC’s TEACCH Autism Program. As much as she valued the job, she also knew she couldn’t maintain the long hours the work demanded and keep up with her classes. The scholarship provided her with the funding she needed to enroll in school full-time.

“The money I was able to get this year has put me in a position where I can still work part time and go to school and still pay my bills without having to take out an extreme amount of loans, so that has been a really big relief for me.”

Though a little anxious about her future, Barnes said she only has to think of her own family to know that she made the right decision to change careers. Growing up in a single-parent home, Barnes said she watched her mother work incredibly long hours to care for her family, including her own aging parents, both of whom had various health issues.

“My grandparents grew up in a town where they didn’t have a lot of education and not a lot of savings, so they really had to rely on Social Security and Medicare to get the things they needed,” she explained. “So just watching my mom trying to navigate the system and just having to fight to get the things that they needed was very hard. But I appreciated the struggle that my mom went through.”

That personal experience continues to motivate her.

“I just realize that there are a lot of other families out there who are just like mine and who are going to need help,” she said.

For more information about fundraising priorities and the impact of private giving at the School of Social Work, please contact: Mary Beth Hernandez, associate dean for advancement,