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Students return to campus for School of Social Work Jumpstart Orientation

The UNC School of Social Work welcomed nearly 150 new MSW students to the program this month, with the launch of its annual JumpStart orientation.

Joint in-person sessions were held for students entering the School’s 3-year programs on Friday, Aug. 13, with the Chapel Hill cohort meeting in the Tate-Turner-Kuralt Building on UNC’s campus and the Winston-Salem cohort gathering at the Forsyth County Department of Social Services, which houses the MSW offices and classrooms. Faculty, staff and administrative leaders hosted a virtual orientation session for full-time Chapel Hill MSW students on Aug. 18.

The orientation events were the first to be held since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the University to shutter campus classrooms in March of last year and to pivot to a remote learning environment.

Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson, dress in a Carolina blue shirt, welcomes new MSW students.
Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson

The School’s newly appointed Dean Dr. Ramona Denby-Brinson was among those eager to greet and welcome this year’s cohort of UNC social work students. As a longtime social work educator, researcher, administrator, practitioner, and mentor, she praised the new students for choosing to pursue a critically needed profession.

“The communities that you will eventually impact will be all the better because of your work,” Denby-Brinson said during the 3-year orientation event. “You have chosen the best profession there ever could be. This time was made for us as social workers. The time we are experiencing right now even with all the challenges and conditions we’ve faced – these are the opportunities, and these are the conditions that really call on the best of social work. These are the conditions you all will tackle, and your training will be second to none.”

Furthermore, that training and education will be led by world-class faculty who bring the research experience, practice wisdom and passion for the field into the classroom every day, she added.

“I couldn’t be more excited for all that awaits you,” Denby-Brinson said. “Everyone in this building has one sole purpose – your success, and our commitment is to you. So, when you do well, we do well, and that is the goal that binds all of us.”

The UNC JumpStart sessions also gave students the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions with their peers and to foster a sense of community in the program. Activities for the day, including presentations on the work of confronting oppression and strategies for succeeding in the MSW program, helped to set the stage for students to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and understanding of the social work profession. New MSW students, each masked, side by side in a classroom.

Overall, nearly 700 candidates submitted applications to the MSW program this year, a 21% increase over last year’s numbers, said Sharon Holmes Thomas, the School’s associate dean for recruitment, admissions and financial aid. Those admitted and enrolled are spread throughout the School’s five core programs, including more than two dozen in the Advanced Standing Programs, which are designed for candidates with an accredited BSW degree and for those eager to continue working while attending school.

Regardless of their different backgrounds, the students share a deep desire, Holmes said, to work with various issues and problems affecting different populations and communities, including those involving adult health and mental health, juvenile justice, interpersonal violence, immigrant and migrant populations, military families and sex and labor trafficking.

Although the next year or two will be challenging, students should embrace the journey and take pride in their accomplishments, added Lisa de Saxe Zerden, the School’s senior associate dean for MSW education.

“You should stop and take in that you are in the number one School of Social Work in the Southeast and in one of the Top 3 Schools of Social Work in the country,” Zerden shared during the orientation sessions. “So, this is not accident. Please know that you are not a mistake. We want you to be here and you deserve to be here.”