Tree of Love
by Anne Medill, Ph.D.
I am sitting in Reggio Emilia, Italy, as a visiting professor for the Spring 2016 semester and find myself trying to come up with only several reasons for why I love the profession of social work. I am amazed and grateful that I was so fortunate to fall in love with the social work profession as a 20-year-old direct service provider and stay in love as a 59-year-old social work faculty member.
Perhaps my love continues because, for the past 20 years, I have had the opportunity to learn from BSW students that engaging with people is an art that requires a range of skills that are unique to the social work profession. Each semester, I have seen the senior students nurture the junior students while assuring them that their classroom assignments will become more meaningful once they are in their field placements. I know this same nurturing skill will be translated for many years after their graduation in the way they create positive changes with individuals, families, and communities. I know that these hundreds of students will make their hundreds of clients believe they are not invisible and they have worth.
I have also been able to observe many BSW students overcome their own social history and emerge as beginning professionals with solid personal boundaries, insight into how to separate their history from the client’s, and an ability to “know” that positive change does happen by becoming that positive change throughout their undergraduate experience. These students bring enriched discussions to the classroom, increasing all of our awareness of how diverse the world really is. Without these peer discussions, our shared understanding of “person in environment” would not be as multi-dimensional.
Or perhaps I still love social work because I have seen all of the field instructors for the last 20 years volunteer their time and energy to demonstrate what “professional service” is through their own actions, without receiving any monetary compensation. We ask them to take on extra supervision and teaching roles, and they are excited to gift months of their time to each student. Some of our students end up employed with these agencies and become colleagues, and others maintain lifelong professional or personal relationships with these voluntary field instructors.
Certainly, my colleagues in the university and my colleagues in the social work field have helped me maintain my love affair with social work. Each person I have worked with has challenged me to question my own viewpoints and beliefs about education, interventions, prevention, and program development. I continue to maintain my appreciation for the real depth and breadth of expertise that each one of these individuals brings to the work table and adds to the outcome of any task.
Just today, as I was walking to the campus in Reggio Emilia, Italy, I realized I was smiling and thinking how lucky I am to be a social worker in this expansive world, working with a new group of students, colleagues, and agencies at 59.
Anne Medill, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology and Social Work, Northern Arizona University. She is currently teaching full time in the BSW program at Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona. She is a strong advocate for international education experiences for BSW students.