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School welcomes new MSW students

The UNC School of Social Work welcomed all new MSW students to the program on Friday, Aug. 16, with the launch of its annual JumpStart orientation events. The sessions are designed to introduce students to their new colleagues, faculty and staff; to provide opportunities for meaningful discussions with their peers and with faculty; to help foster a sense of community in the program, and to set the stage for students to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and understanding of the profession to successfully complete the MSW program.

Every year, the sessions also include a variety of activities, including an overview of the curriculum and faculty advisor meetings, presentations on the work of confronting oppression and on professional ethics, a dual degree and programs fair, and a bus tour of agencies in the Triangle. Students in the Winston-Salem and Triangle Distance Education Programs also participated in orientation activities the week of Aug. 9.
All total, 141 new students enrolled in the MSW program this year – 25% of the total number who applied, said Sharon Holmes Thomas, assistant dean for recruitment, admissions and financial aid. More than two dozen students enrolled in May in the School’s Advanced Standing Program, while the remaining number includes:

  • 17 students in the 3-year Winston-Salem program
  • 27 students in the 3-year Triangle program and
  • 71 students in the 2-year Full-time program.

In addition, 35% of the incoming class are students of color, a 10% increase over 2018; an estimated 22% are from out of state.
As in years past, this year’s group of students are also incredibly talented and diverse and bring a wealth of life and personal experiences, Thomas said. Among these include:

  • 12 who completed various AmeriCorps programs, from California, to the Mississippi Delta, to Chicago, to Warren County, N.C.
  • More than 20 students who are bilingual, including those who speak Spanish, French, German, and Portuguese and
  • Three students who are fluent in American Sign Language.

Others have completed a variety of educational and volunteer work experiences in 25 countries, including: Argentina, Cambodia, Dominican Republic, France, Indonesia, Philippines, and South Korea.

This year’s students also bring a depth of passion and interest in working with many different populations, problems, intervention models, and communities, such as:

  • Adults with intellectual disabilities
  • Black women’s health and maternal health
  • Indigenous communities
  • Substance use disorders
  • Child welfare
  • LGBTQ+ communities
  • Criminal justice reform for youth and adults
  • Environmental racism
  • Economic inequality and immigration law
  • Family advocacy and policy development
  • Global social work practice
  • Human trafficking and
  • Latinx and refugee communities.

In welcoming all students into the program, Lisa de Saxe Zerden, senior associate dean for MSW Education, noted that the School has a responsibility to produce competent, knowledgeable social workers who are also change agents.

“But we do this for another reason, too. We do this for the people we work with and on behalf of,” Zerden said. “The social problems our society faces are too great, the resources too limited, and societal priorities completely off balance. Simply put, the vulnerabilities of the marginalized are too precarious not to respond.” These needs are especially pronounced across the South, Zerden continued. “When you look across the life course at micro or macro issues, in almost every health, social, economic, and political indicator, the South fares worst,” she said.

“When symbolisms of racism are shared too commonly, when leadership lacks all respect and decency, when basic tenants of democracy are being eroded every day, when ignorance and apathy becomes mainstream, and the poor and disenfranchised are further beaten down, a profession predicated on social justice, dignity, and self-determination is critical. You become critical.”

Although such responsibilities can seem overwhelming, Zerden reassured the group that they are not alone on this new educational journey.
“You are here because you feel hope, and we believe in you,” she said. “You are in the right place at the right time.”