by Erum Agha
“That’s quite a shift” is the comment I hear most often when I disclose to people that even though I am pursuing my master's in social work, my bachelor's is in engineering. To me, the shift was imminent. I have felt drawn to analyzing the effects of personalities, relations, and environment when assessing feasibility of projects. Likewise, I saw value in examining human behavior when studying business management. As an avid world traveler, I have been just as fascinated by observing behaviors, attitudes, and customs of people as I have been by the European and Mediterranean art and architecture. In essence, I was reflecting on social systems theory before I was even aware that one existed.
Humans are social beings, and people around the world possess unique culture. It is the culture that changes over time and not the humans (Anderson, Carter, & Lowe, 1999). Experiencing distinct cultures around the world and observing their language, emotions, celebrations, grieving, and child rearing practices has given me insight about the dynamics of power and control within families and in societies. That is exactly what makes social work so intriguing to me, because I can see that humans have the urge to derive meaning and reason from every behavior. I am excited at the possibilities that social work holds in providing explanations that make sense in any society - explanations that are respectful of differences and are competent in any cultural setting.
Just as the knowledge of engineering sciences helps me better understand the force field analysis, the systems theory and the concept of entropy in a system without reform and social justice, understanding social behaviors, norms, and values helps me better understand the concepts of margin of error in even the most intricate calculations. Some things just don’t fit in a set category, and in doing so, one would be faced with the danger of being a reductionist. Social work transcends that limitation.
In my quest to learn more, I am beginning to fathom that with the kind of approach that social work education provides in the journey to better understand human diversity and behavior, the sky is the limit.
Anderson, R. E., Carter, I., & Lowe, G. R. (1999). Human Behavior in the Social Environment: A Social Systems Approach. New Brunswick: Aldine Transaction.
Erum Agha is a second year MSW student at North Carolina Central University. She is also the recipient of the 2015 NASW President’s Award.