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MSW student eager to help military families in need

Rhianna Rakip wasn’t looking to pursue a career in social work when she moved to North Carolina two years ago. Armed with a biology degree and experience researching brain cancers and neurodegenerative genetic disorders, Rakip thought she’d easily land another position in biological research somewhere in the Triangle.

But after four months of searching, she was on the verge of giving up until her husband Tom encouraged her to attend an information session for the School of Social Work’s MSW program. Rakip had long been interested in going back to school, though she’d never considered a degree in social work.

However, she had in recent years worked closely with several organizations that support active-duty soldiers and military families of wounded veterans. The volunteerism had grown out of her own experience of nearly losing her brother, a U.S. Marine who was shot in 2006 during his second deployment to Iraq and then wounded again a few years later in Afghanistan. Perhaps, her husband noted at the time, social work could prepare her to serve military families professionally.

As a final year student in the School’s full-time program, Rakip now longs for such an opportunity.

“I graduate in May, and my hope is that I will go on to work with a nonprofit or in a policy-making capacity,” she said. “Unfortunately, there just aren’t a lot of services out there for family members who are also affected and who go through their own kind of PTSD trauma when a military member is wounded or killed in action. Too often, these families fall apart when there’s just so much more that could be done for them. I really want to focus my energy on helping them.”

Rakip’s science background is already proving to be an asset in the field. She is currently working as an intern with Camp Corral, a free camp for children of wounded, disabled or fallen service members. As part of her role, Rakip is helping to develop an evaluation to determine the camp’s success and its influence on young campers, many of whom struggle with the stress and challenges of being in a military family.

“Up until now, there hasn’t been any research on the program. So, we don’t have any hard data that says, ‘This is how a non-therapeutic camp will benefit children in this situation,’” she explained.

In addition, Rakip has been interested in the potential role that genetics play in helping individuals deal with combat stress—a topic she may explore further if she decides to pursue a Ph.D.

Although her own family’s experience with the military helped plant the seed for her interest in social work, receiving the Charles Keith Springle Memorial Scholarship strengthened her resolve to give back to families in need. The award honors the 1984 MSW alum, who was shot and killed five years ago by a soldier who was receiving psychological counseling at a military clinic in Baghdad where Springle worked.

“To hear all the things that (Springle) did and all the lives that he reached was so inspiring,” she said. “I am incredibly humbled to have received this award.”

Rakip also remains grateful that the scholarship helped to ease stress on her own family. “When we moved here, things were definitely tight financially,” she said. “Deciding what we were going to spend our money on and which bills we were going to pay because I didn’t have a job was pretty scary. So the security of knowing that this award would help me to afford school was such a relief.”

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,