I found my major in Social Work by accident. I was the president of a campus organization, Carry the Fire, which built awareness of and advocacy for issues related to modern day slavery (the organization was later combined with other RSOs). I realized that the rest of the organization leadership team was majoring or minoring in Social Work, which inspired my interest. I met with the Social Work Academic Advisor who walked me through the department and discussed what it meant to be a social worker. I got bit by the bug and have been in love with Social Work since then.
Some of the most influential experiences on campus for me came from classes and interactions with professors. For example, before I began the Social Work program, I took a sexual communication course which got my mind spinning about the roles and interactions of privilege, sex, communication, and power in our country. Within the School of Social Work, I had the opportunity to gain research experience with Professor Janet Liechty. I was 19 when I began working with her, and she treated me as a peer and as a professional. She had expectations of me that were at the level of a professional and I did everything in my power to meet those expectations. We got published last year and I was fortunate to participate in writing a journal article, which was an incredible experience. I also interacted with Professor Karen Tabb-Dina through the Undergraduate Research Symposium. Based on my publications in that forum, Professor Tabb-Dina encouraged me to apply for the Capital Honors Event. I went to Springfield and spoke at the Capitol Hill about a federal policy analysis.
The amazing professors at Illinois encouraged me to pursue a Master’s degree. Although I considered several other options, I chose the Masters of Social Work program with a concentration in Healthcare here at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Illinois is an accredited and well-recognized program, and the professors are the icing on the cake! I find that the School of Social Work offers strong supports for students to become young professionals and comprehensive individuals. For example, we have town halls and committees with undergraduate students, graduate students, and professors to support diversity in the schools, to discuss issues of race on campus, and to explore what it means to be a social worker and advocate for vulnerable populations. We are truly treated with respect, as professionals, and as individuals.
My advice for current Illinois students is to talk with your professors. They really do want to help you. The support of the School of Social Work and the professors truly made a difference in my Illinois experiences. Additionally, I’d encourage students to take advantage of the many opportunities available on campus. Find a few things you are passionate about and to invest deeply in them.