Improving career, and children’s lives, through Distance Master of Social Work program

“I feel like I’m graduating with a lot of tools reinforced, grown, and expanded. It has been well-worth it. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve been deeply challenged.” – Social Work Master’s student Sarah Green

Sarah Green will graduate in December from CSU’s Distance Master of Social Work program, a part-time hybrid program that combines online and face-to-face coursework. For the past three years, She has been working towards her M.S.W. with fellow students in a Colorado Springs cohort group.

Green is also a recipient of the Title IV-E Child Welfare Stipend, a federal program implemented at the state level, which provides social work students with advanced field education training in partnership with the Colorado Department of Human Services. Information sessions for current students interested in the stipend program begin November 27.

Students in the distance program have flexibility to manage work, school, and personal obligations while advancing their careers, but it’s still a balancing act. Green shares her advice for prospective students considering CSU’s Distance M.S.W. Program, as well as her experience as a Title IV-E Child Welfare Stipend scholarship recipient.

What is your home town?

Salida, Colorado

Do you have a specific interest in the field of social work?

I’ve spent many years in social work, working with refugees and immigrants, and more recently running parenting classes for parents and children. My passion, ultimately, is working with the international refugee or immigrant communities. I hope to move in that direction in the future and eventually work overseas.

What drew you to CSU’s social work program?

Accessibility. I was looking for something online and, living in a rural community, it had to be something I could easily access. Colorado Springs was a realistic location to get to two or three times a semester, so it was very doable, and it was more affordable than a number of the other MSW programs.

Now that you’re getting ready to graduate, do you feel ready to have your MSW and step into social work practice?

I’ve gained and grown in many skills like critical thinking and recognizing deeper underlying needs. So yes, absolutely, I feel like I’m graduating with a lot of tools reinforced, grown, and expanded. It has been well-worth it. I’ve learned a lot and been deeply challenged.

What has it been like being part of a cohort, with the same group of students working towards the Master of Social Work degree for the past three years?

It’s been great! It’s fun to see and experience the connection and the friendships you make that stick. The ability to interact online and via phone gives a sense of support, because you know these people are going through the same thing as you. Many classmates who aren’t so rural get together, work on homework, and play together. So I think it’s a good support and a positive model.

How has it been juggling work-life-school balance?

There were definitely two times that I felt I just couldn’t handle it any more. Thankfully I had good people in my life who encouraged me to keep going. I have two great children, one of whom faces a lot of challenges, so as a single parent life is hard even without school. My son’s needs meant that I couldn’t start homework until after he went to sleep. I discovered if I was consistent, and worked for a couple of hours every night, then I could get most of my work done. Certainly, there were classes and times when I spent one or two days on projects and they required more commitment, but overall, the consistency of every night worked for me.  However, after three years, I have to admit that I’m super excited about having a little more free time and sleep time!

Is there a class that stands out to you as memorable or having significant content?

Community practice has been my favorite class. It’s something I’ve been passionate about–seeing community change. There was great reading and insight into how one event affects the others, and recognizing root causes.  The class challenged me to be more communicative with community leadership, and revealed how current systems continue to oppress. I have more ideas about how to affect change and build community from the ground up.  It also helped me to appreciate the responsibility I have to work towards change. Living in a rural community, I have the benefit of ease in contacting and building relationships with people throughout the community, including elected officials, business owners, schools, and struggling families.

How did the Colorado Child Welfare Stipend impact your education or your program experience?

I wouldn’t have gone as far into the child welfare unit without the stipend. It connected me to much bigger issues, and real family struggles and loss, as well as specific steps to take to work with families. It can be a bit overwhelming, so the experience helped take me out of the overwhelming place to the ‘here’s where we are, here’s some steps, and here’s what our policy is and what we do’ place. That was powerful. I’m really grateful for the opportunity, and can now recognize more clearly the benefits, challenges, and power advantages found in child welfare.

Tell me more about your field placement with the Colorado Department of Human Services.

This field placement allowed me the opportunity to do more one-on-one time with families and parents through regular home visits. I’ve also honed some of my micro skills, growing in understanding of child welfare, and recognizing efforts that support families, and efforts that don’t. It’s given me insight into DHS practices, what changes we could possibly make, and how we can improve the lives of families. It certainly opened my eyes to some of the challenges our families are facing.

What have you learned in your field placement with the Department of Human Services?

On a family level, I had the joy of connecting one-on-one with Hispanic families in our community and have gained skills on how to work with families as a team. On the policy level, I’ve learned how to talk to city and county leaders and how I can best plant a seed to implement change. So I feel that I have gained skills from micro level up to more of that macro policy-level change.

Would you have any words of wisdom for those wanting to take on a similar challenge?

I would definitely encourage people just to know: what are your goals? And, is this the right time? I think we tend to believe we have to get that degree to look better or keep up with someone else. If it means you’re going to lose a chunk of critical time with your family, I would recommend assessing that. All of our families can grow through it, but it’s also a sacrifice for everybody. So really evaluate if it’s worth it at this time. Also, once you’re in the program, although grades have value, keep your focus on learning, critical thinking, and application as much as possible. Also, school is important, but enjoying family and taking time to bond, rest and, take care of yourself is just as important.

Name five words that you feel could be used to describe you as a person and/or a social work professional.

Thoughtful, kind, passionate, insightful, and positive.

Is there a quote or motto that you tend to live by?

I have quite a few, but I suppose currently a Nelson Mandela quote is one I’ve been thinking about a lot: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” This is a hard one for me because often I don’t recognize my freedom or privilege, and don’t realize how it’s affecting others. Everything from what we wear and eat to how we spend our time and money impacts others. I want my actions to make our world a better place, and this means making daily choices that are difficult…and worth it!