By Jesalyn Keziah
2nd year MSW student
In May and June, the UNC School of Social Work hosted students from two summer enrichment programs designed to give highly qualified students from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds the opportunity to visit UNC-Chapel Hill and gain exposure to higher education and campus life at UNC.
Project Uplift brings about 1,000 rising high school seniors to Carolina for a two-day experience that includes, a campus tour, informational fairs, opportunities to meet with professors and students, and the chance to sit in on sample lectures. At the School of Social Work, students participated in a sample social work class on child and adolescent development in family. Travis Albritton, Ben Balderas, and Sharon Thomas led the mock classroom experience, which included a lesson on family dynamics, genograms and ecomaps to illuminate the ways that social workers use a person-in-environment perspective to support clients’ well-being.
Following the lecture, students attended a college fair across campus, where they had the chance to hear about career options in social work and the benefits of a graduate school education. Many high school students were drawn to the social work table, with some noting that they had imagined futures helping their communities, advocating for specific populations or issues, and making a difference transforming systems to be more equitable. Others were excited about particular programs, including the one-year advanced standing degree and the dual degree programs. Multiple students said the mock class opened their eyes to their interest in social work, while others said they admired the social workers in their school or community and wanted to make a similar impact.
UNC’s Science Enrichment Preparation (SEP) Program is an eight-week academic enrichment program that supports rising undergraduate juniors and seniors from first-generation, underrepresented minority, rural and/or economically disadvantaged backgrounds who are interested in pursuing a medical school or dental school degree. During this program, 26 students stayed on campus, attended more than 150 classroom hours, visited local health facilities to talk with professionals, and shadowed working professionals in health related fields. At the School of Social Work, Sharon Thomas provided an overview of the social work profession and the School’s mission, and Lisa Zerden presented on the topic of “Integrated Behavioral Health: Preparing a Workforce for a New Health Care Context.”
These visits enabled students to experience campus life at a top-ranking institution, explore their interests in academia, and ask questions before they begin the application process. The experience also provided the opportunity for the School of Social Work and other university programs to reach a new generation and begin the conversation about the broad, varied, and purposeful opportunities one can experience in a social work career.