Outstanding social work grad focuses on social work policy and equity in education for her BSW and beyond

colorado state bsw grad virginia smithPhoto by Sarah Hubbard

Virginia Smith (BSW, ’20) has never looked back since deciding on Colorado State for her undergraduate degree in social work. Following graduation this fall she’s already looking forward to graduate study, to continue following her passion for social work policy within the field of education.

“I am passionate about Macro social work practice, especially surrounding policy,” Smith said. “There is so much in the policy realm of education that really applies to the core values of the social work profession.”

“As a nation, we are at the beginning of a huge discussion on education,” said Smith. “Conversations on equity and access are occurring in spaces and at levels that we haven’t seen previously. The value that education brings to our communities and systems is being tested and reaffirmed.”

Growing a passion for social work policy

As a nontraditional student and parent, Smith had lived experiences going into the BSW program that sparked her passion for social work policy in education. She has two daughters in school, and had worked in Denver’s public school system.

One course in the BSW program at Colorado State—SOWK 410 Social Welfare Policy, Issues, and Advocacy taught by Marie Villescas Zamzow—made a difference for Smith. “That class really solidified my desire to work in social work policy,” she said. “I believe being a social worker will equip me to advocate in the best possible way for the education of all students.”

“I was also fortunate to be able to TA [in Zamzow’s policy class],” said Smith, “which was like being able to hear two more times about my favorite subject from an instructor who is so incredibly passionate, and gives so much to her classes, while also getting to hear perspectives and knowledge from so many more peers.”

Valuable relationships with students and faculty

Connections with other students and faculty have been valuable to Smith. “I am continually thankful for the insights that my peers have to offer in regard to their own education and lived experience,” she said. “And all of my professors and instructors have had such varied experiences and bring different knowledge bases.”

“What I find to be most exciting about being a social worker is the relationships and collaborations,” said Smith. “This summer I had the opportunity to intern with the Family Leadership Training Institute, which works with communities across the state of Colorado.”

Part of CSU Extension, the Family Leadership Training Institute includes collaboration among Social Work and Human Development and Family Studies programs and staff. “I was able to learn directly from [School of Social Work interim director] David MacPhee and the director for FLTI, Patti Schmitt,” said Smith. “The knowledge and experience they shared was amazing.”

Smith’s internship with Family Leadership Training Institute helped her to ‘connect the dots’ between BSW coursework and social work practice. “Seeing first-hand the many different ways that my education as a social worker plays directly into so many aspects of community practice was exciting.”

“There is so much that collaborating with others can bring to the table, and having expertise and experience from a variety of sources can result in new findings, forward momentum, and most importantly, deeper relationships and understanding of systems,” Smith said.

“I love that my education in the School of Social Work has prepared me to walk into any situation and be able to navigate the written and unwritten rules and norms to be a productive and beneficial addition to any team,” added Smith.

Confident planning for the future

Smith is currently working on graduate school applications. She hopes to stay at Colorado State University for her MSW. “The School of Social Work has a graduate certificate in non-profit management that I feel would align and support my future career goals,” she said.

“My aim is to go into macro practice, hopefully in the realm of policy practice. Neomi Vin-Raviv’s research class, as well as working with Dr. MacPhee this past summer, have both sparked my interest in pursuing a doctoral degree,” said Smith.

“Having a world-class university like Colorado State University in our community is such a great opportunity,” said Smith, who had searched thoroughly for the right program to support her as an undergraduate student. “I kept hearing how great the social work program at CSU was. I knew I found the perfect fit for my academics and have never regretted the decision.”

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