Students discuss awareness, explore career paths for Social Work Week

Last week marked Social Work Week, featuring organized events to increase awareness of the social work profession. The National Association of Social Work chose the theme “All People Matter” to highlight Social Work Month, of which St. Olaf’s week, organized by social work club Serving Our Society SOS, was a part.

On Tuesday, March 11, SOS sponsored a dinner panel with four alumni to talk about a variety of social work careers. The panel included a diversity of ages, ranging from Erin Lawrence ’13 to Trenton Lawson ’95. The panel also included Ally Pushing ’12 and Jessica Berry ’06.

Panelists talked about the variety of ways a social work major can be used.

Lawson kicked off by talking about how much his career changed in social work. He began working in a children’s home that provided 24/7 care for children with special needs. From there, he became a social worker at a school that had an essentially non-existent program. He began to notice that “kids who weren’t doing well in the classroom would do things to get them out of the classroom.” He realized he wanted to work on the administration side to give personalized help to students who needed it.

“People get stuck in the mindset that it is the student, it is the family, but sometimes it is you, the teacher, that has to move,” Lawson said.

Pushing worked as a community outreach coordinator in Lutheran Volunteer Corps. She now works at Service Employees International Union SEIU, where she facilitates and creates unions. She will be attending graduate school this fall to receive her Master’s degree in social work.

Berry is a certified doula in the Twin Cities. A doula is a birthing coach that stays throughout the pregnancy and sometimes afterwards to help the couple through the pregnancy. She began in AmeriCorps, working at an elementary school in St. Paul to close the achievement gap by creating programs for the students. Now as a birthing doula, she helps families have a good birthing experience, whether that is a natural birth or a birth in a hospital.

A recent St. Olaf grad, Lawrence found a job at Meridian Services, where she works with the elderly to ensure they stay in their homes instead of going to nursing homes. She works on cases throughout the year, acting as a resource for her clients.

The panel offered suggestions for those going into social work, or really any profession. Berry offered the phrase, “Fake it ’til you make it.” She added, “St. Olaf taught me how to figure out how to get the answers if you don’t know them already.” Lawson suggested sitting back for the first year in a job just so you can figure out how everything works before jumping in and offering your suggestions. It will make your colleagues respect you more, and you will have a better idea of how everything works, he says.

Other events last week included a hallway display and a showing of “Oranges and Sunshine” in Viking Theater on Thursday. The film follows the story of a social worker who exposes an undercover system that was transporting children from the U.K. to Australia.

The hallway display, Debunking Myths of Marginalized Populations, was meant to “cause the student body to rethink their conceptions of LGBTQ, older adults, people living with mental illness, people who are differently-abled, people experiencing homelessness, people on welfare and race and racism,” the junior leadership of SOS said. This leadership team includes Claire DeWind ’15, Catherine Gailey ’15, Tamara Meyerhoff ’15 and Landy Montiel f’15.

While social work majors head SOS, it is open to all interested majors and concentrations. The club’s goal is to “raise awareness of injustices in society and to facilitate these discussions on campus.”