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School of Social Work hosts annual practicum appreciation seminar 

by Chris Hilburn-Trenkle

(Headshot courtesy North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services)

Faculty, staff and members of the outside community joined a virtual workshop on Friday, May 17, in a celebration of practicum education partnerships between the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Social Work and North Carolina communities. 

The 2024 Practicum Instructors’ and Task Supervisors’ Appreciation Celebration, titled “Harmonizing Practice: Bridging the Gap Between Direct and Macro Social Work,” was hosted by the School. It featured a keynote speech, remarks from Dean Ramona Denby-Brinson and Interim Associate Dean for MSW Education Andrea Murray-Lichtman, and breakout sessions with guest presenters.  

“You all are the heartbeat of our work,” Denby-Brinson said. “You’re the heartbeat of everything we do to prepare future practitioners. I just wanted to take an opportunity again to express our gratitude on behalf of the School and just reflect for a moment on what you have done. You all know that, you feel the impact, the students certainly know it because we hear from them all the time, but it’s not just what you have done in terms of your official role, which is incredible, but it’s also the learning environment that has been extended beyond the classroom into the practicum setting.” 

Director of Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities, and Substance Use Services (DMHDDSUS) for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Kelly Crosbie, MSW, LCSW, highlighted recent successes in key areas of new investment as the event’s keynote speaker. 

Crosbie’s presentation, “Paving the Way: Year 1 Milestones Toward Strengthening NC’s MH/SUD/IDD/TBI System,” outlined her department’s broader vision for mental health, substance use, intellectual and developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injury systems to promote healthier and happier lifestyles.  

Crosbie also highlighted lessons from her 30 years of experience, including 13 years at NCDHHS, and explained how she became a social justice advocate. She also expressed the importance of self-care and community when working in the mental health system.  

With the rise of those who have reported symptoms of anxiety or depression around the country and the need for more assistance in the state, Crosbie outlined the strategic goals for NCDHHS for 2024–29 that involve promoting wellness and recovery, strengthening the workforce and other initiatives. 

“April Parker, our director of student development and leadership, did us a great service by bringing Kelly Crosbie to the School for this practicum appreciation event,” said Denby-Brinson. “Her keynote speech was realistic about the state of North Carolina’s challenges. She struck a note of optimism, too, which we on the academic side who are graduating future social work practitioners and leaders feel as well. It was meaningful to hear the director of such an important department at NCDHHS lift social work up in all of her examples for the vital role the field plays in the health of our communities.” 

Following the keynote address, attendees were encouraged to join breakout sessions to discuss the interconnectedness of direct practice care (micro) and community, management, and policy practice (macro), lessons from careers in social work, and the development of a new alternative response program that works to connect individuals with the proper care by sending responses that better match the needs of residents established by the City of Durham.   

The breakout sessions were led by leaders with years of expertise including Pachovia Lovett, a school social work consultant for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction; UNC Center for Excellence in Community Mental Health faculty member Matt Ballard; Associate Professor Amy Blank Wilson; and Abena Bediako, a clinical manager for the City of Durham Community Safety Department. 

Later in the evening attendees gathered at the School for a dinner event and were joined by special guest Michelle Cassandra Johnson, ‘98 (MSW), the author of books including, “We Heal Together: Rituals and Practices for Building Community and Connection” and “Skill in Action: Radicalizing Your Yoga Practice to Create a Just World.” 

The workshop served as both a reminder of the challenges faced, and the massive strides made by members of the School community in making a difference around the state as its practicum education continues to grow.  

With 147 active practicum placements for the 2023–24 academic year and an estimated $1.2 million in service provided to the state of North Carolina each year, there were plenty of reasons for the School to celebrate its achievements in impacting countless individuals and serving as a leading force in the social work system. 

“As the director of practicum education, I believe that the growing impact of UNC’s practicum education around N.C. means we fulfill an essential mission to improve lives within the N.C. community,” said Murray-Lichtman. “From mental and behavioral health interventions with direct patient contact in health departments, hospitals, schools, and community agencies to resource coordination and organizational development at the systems level, UNC’s practicum education allows social work students to practice social work and meet the needs of communities from the mountains to the coast of N.C.” 

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