Psychosocial oncology, classroom gardening, and social work: Q&A with Jen Currin-McCulloch

jen currin-mcculloch
Currin-McCulloch’s practice and research focus on enhancing the psychosocial quality of life among individuals and families facing cancer and other life-limiting illnesses.

Jen Currin-McCulloch is an assistant professor in the School of Social Work at Colorado State University. Learn more about why she came to CSU, and her interests in psychosocial oncology, existential quality of life, end-of-life communication, identity development, adjustment to illness, and inter-professional collaborative practice.

1. What brought you to CSU’s School of Social Work?

Initially, I was drawn to the school’s emphasis on social justice, student-centric pedagogy, and focus on the intersections of health and mental health. When I came here to visit, I was struck by the sense of community within the program, the strong desire to see students achieve their professional goals, and the way in which the faculty and staff celebrated each other’s successes. I couldn’t be more excited to join the CSU family and be a part of the school’s transformative mission.

2. What are your research interests, and how did you get into that topic?

I worked as an oncology and palliative care social worker in a community hospital, and became interested in research as a way of evaluating patient care programs I started. From my initial studies, I discovered research offered another way of engaging my clients in sharing about their experiences and unmet needs, and finding ways we could improve their quality of life.

In talking with individuals with advanced cases of cancer, they shared factors that motivated them to engage in life far beyond what their doctors had predicted. I became fascinated by the power of hope, positive thinking, and ways that we, as social workers, could help foster this strong connection between the body and mind–subsequently helping our clients achieve personal milestones while living within a shortened timeframe.

3. What’s your teaching philosophy?

I envision my classroom as a living, growing environment similar to a garden.  By creating a setting that incorporates the perfect balance of nourishment (theory, clinical & advocacy skills, simulated learning), nurturing (engagement in self-reflection, critical thinking, self-care), and a safe space, students can flourish and grow into thriving social work professionals.

I treasure the opportunity to nurture my students’ growth and to provide them a safe and open setting to explore their own identities, personal strengths, and areas for continued growth.  By presenting them with a toolbox of skills and numerous practice opportunities, they will have the confidence to grow beyond their classroom roots to nourish the healthy development of individuals, families, and communities.

Additionally, I aspire to cultivate students’ sense of professional identity so that they will raise their voices for the greater cause of our profession, and the health and welfare of those living within under-served communities.

jen currin-mcculloch4. What’s your favorite thing about campus so far?

The students. In my short time at CSU, I have had the opportunity to engage with students in social work and other departments and can feel their passion to learn and improve their communities. Their enthusiasm further ignites my fire to be the best educator that I can be. I also can’t help but acknowledge the beauty of our campus and the majestic views that greet me each morning.

The School of Social Work is part of CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.