by Chris Hilburn-Trenkle
April Parker was looking for a sign.
She had been employed as a social worker and program coordinator at the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ Central Regional Hospital in Butner, N.C., for almost a decade and had watched many of her coworkers come and go.
“ … I was like, ‘Why am I not going somewhere?’ But I really felt like I needed to wait to know when it was the right time,” Parker said. “It was something that I just had to feel in my spirit, and I did not feel like I needed to go.”
After the tragic murder of George Floyd in May 2020, Parker found her purpose and became a leading figure at the hospital, helping patients and employees alike as the head of the Diversity and Inclusion Council at the hospital.
“It was a major effort to help more people of color not be harmed,” Parker said.
Her efforts in promoting equality and justice in the workplace and activism in the community culminated in her receiving the John R. Larkins Award in 2021. Around that same time, she found her sign that it was time to move on from the hospital and landed at the University of North Carolina School of Social Work as a clinical assistant professor in August 2021.
Parker, who received her bachelor’s degree from Carolina in 2008 and her master’s of social work in 2011, would now have the opportunity to lead future generations of social workers.
A little more than two years later, Parker was named director of student development and leadership at the School in October 2023.
“It feels major to me to be given this opportunity to do this role, but I have to believe there’s something that our School’s leadership sees in me that thinks I’m capable of doing it,” Parker said.
Parker, who is a key facilitator in overseeing the Golden Policy Fellowship for 25 MSW students at the School, has hit the ground running in her new role. She’s focusing on professional development, growth and expansion, and wants to strengthen the connection between students and the community. She also hopes to provide students with support in the year immediately following graduation as they enter their professional careers.
“I think if they had a little bit of support from us in that first year after graduation then we could expand our workforce into rural areas,” Parker said. “So, I’m looking at things like, ‘Is there a chance that we can offer clinical supervision for free with a network at the School? Are there additional trainings and certificates that our graduates can still be connected to (at) the School and receive that they can take with them in their new positions?’”
Associate Dean for MSW Education Evelyn “Evi” Taylor noted that Parker was not just a “pivotal” member of the team, but a leader at the School thanks to her dedication to social work and her care for students.
“She consistently supports our students through teaching, mentorship, advocacy, and active listening,” Taylor said. “She is often found pouring into, checking on, and advising students throughout the duration of the program. April practices relational leadership and is passionate about helping to develop students as future leaders. She is an encourager, motivator, and a steadfast supporter who goes above and beyond to plan innovative programming to develop leadership skills. Her passion for social work is unmatched and her infectious positive energy translates well with students and faculty alike.”
It’s that passion for her students, more than anything else, that resonates when speaking with Parker, whether it’s in helping them prepare for their career, guiding them through their fellowship or leading a lecture on any given day.
“Knowing that I can have a tiny bit of influence or nugget of truth that will stick with them throughout their growth after they leave school, it’s all worth it,” Parker said. “I think it’s those human connections and relationships that we develop with the students that really make their experience at our School something that they will treasure and remember.”