My road to social work was a long, winding path. I never really knew that social work was an opportunity that was open to me. Growing up, I always worked with social workers, whether that was in schools or other settings, but I wasn’t cognizant of what their job really was. But as I made my way through high school, I knew I wanted to be in some sort of helping profession.

I was always drawn to the people aspect where you got to work one-on-one, or work with a team to help solve issues that are either small, individual problems or working on larger-scale issues, which drew me to Social Work. And since the field was so broad, I knew I could find an area where I could really narrow my focus.

My undergraduate story would not be complete if I did not mention the Marching Illini. It was such a fun experience and was always a place where you felt cared for and knew that you had someone to reach out to. I’m grateful that the director, Barry Houser, was able to take me in as a part of the undergraduate staff. There were just so many experiences that not only serve as lasting memories, but also moments where I saw both personal and professional growth. That is something I will never forget.

I had so many positive experiences as a student in the School of Social Work. It’s a tight community because it’s a small college, and the connections were amazing. Towards the end of my undergraduate program, I was able to be a part of the Healthcare Education and Leadership Scholars (HEALS) Program, which allowed me to connect with scholars across the country, and work with a team to create a webinar about rural health in Texas. Those kinds of opportunities helped me build a foundation and find what I was truly passionate about.

The staff in the School of Social Work are truly amazing. My academic advisor, Aaron Surratt, was always behind me and had words of wisdom when I needed them. He was there when I had any questions about my current status, or when I wanted to explore what enrolling in graduate school would look like. The staff and faculty truly understand that everyone’s situation is different, and they always act in the best interest of the student. I really can’t say enough about how much they really care.

Something that I learned as I was finishing my undergraduate degree was that I really enjoyed being in a space where learning was the objective. It was a period where I could be a sponge and surround myself with fantastic faculty and staff. I wanted to build on the foundation that my BSW built and really narrow my focus, while being in a space where learning was a priority. I am currently enrolled as a Master of Social Work student with a focus in Health Care at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. I had the opportunity to attend other very competitive graduate degree programs, but my decision came down to that sense of community within the School and connection with students and staff alike. I’m very appreciative of the culture of collaboration over competitiveness within the graduate program here.

As I finish up my coursework, my next step is to complete a field placement, which I hope to complete at a location that works with underserved and vulnerable communities, where social workers are needed most. Most of all, I’m looking forward to being able to help people.

If I had to put my advice into simple words, it’d be that you deserve to be here. There may be times where you doubt yourself, or feelings of anxiousness come up. But always remember that no matter what program, no matter what discipline you’re in, you’re here for a reason. Just trust yourself and know that you’re surrounded by some of the most supportive staff and best faculty in the country.