School of Social Work outstanding grad uses her struggles to inform her social work skills

Outdoor portrait of Sarah Fizer wearing a yellow sun dress
Sarah Fizer

Sarah Fizer has been heavily involved in social justice groups since she first transferred to Colorado State University and joined the School of Social Work.

Because of the mounting challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with mental health struggles, reaching graduation was no easy feat for Fizer. She leaned into her experiences through her struggle and learned how to harness her pain to use it to help others, a skill she will use throughout her career in social work.

Path to CSU

Fizer was born in California but moved to Colorado in 2009. After beginning her undergraduate experience at CU Denver pursuing a degree in psychology, she switched paths and moved up to Fort Collins.

“Around the time that COVID hit, I decided I wanted to move to Fort Collins and apply to CSU,” said Fizer. “I changed my major to social work, and it has been a blast ever since!”

Overcoming obstacles

Everyone’s sense of normalcy was turned on its head when the COVID-19 pandemic came into full swing, but for those going through a significant change, it was an especially rocky and uncertain time.

“Moving to Fort Collins and transferring to CSU during the height of the pandemic was a huge and frightening transition,” said Fizer. “I still feel like I haven’t quite had the ‘Fort Collins experience,’ though I have tried to explore more of our CSU campus this semester.”

On top of being apart from anything familiar to her, her ability to make friends in her new home was heavily impeded because all her classes were online for her first semester at CSU. Social isolation and mental health are intertwined, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made apparent.

Throughout her life, Fizer has struggled with mental health challenges that have made it difficult to devote herself to her studies. Nevertheless, she pressed on, even using her struggles to make her a better social worker.

“I’ve continued throughout my education, despite those things, with the goal of making my pain count for something throughout my social work career,” Fizer said. “I remind myself that everything I go through will allow me to help someone in the future who may be experiencing something similar.”

During her experience at CSU, Fizer was able to lean on her professors in the School of Social Work for support and motivation.

“Most of my professors have been incredibly knowledgeable about their field and I have learned so much from hearing their experiences,” Fizer said. “They are very compassionate and emphasize their students’ well-being.”

Student involvement

Despite her struggles, and with the help of several faculty and staff members, Fizer was able to start a peer support group for LGBTQIA+ students within the School of Social Work, called Queer in Action.

“A lot of my peers and I felt that there wasn’t much of a place to connect as a community and I wanted to address that need,” Fizer said. “It has been a dream come true to work with stakeholders in our program to create Queer in Action and see the positive impact it has had. Especially during this time, when it feels as though our rights and identities are being challenged, it was important to have a place to both vent and feel uplifted.”

Because Fizer came to CSU while the pandemic was in full swing, she didn’t have the opportunity to join many clubs until her last semester as an undergraduate. Some groups she’s a part of include: the Trans-Cis Alliance, the Committee for Social Justice, and the group she co-facilitates: Queer in Action.

She’s also devoted much of her time this semester to her internship with Tell Someone, a CSU service where anyone can report concerns about a student or staff member to get them the help they need. Working for Tell Someone was an invaluable experience for Fizer, whose eyes were opened to the possibilities her future career could yield.

“Through this role, I was able to meet with many CSU campus partners that provide services to students of diverse identities and backgrounds,” Fizer said. “I loved to see the passion they have for supporting students like me! I have learned and grown so much during this time, and I am hoping to continue my professional development in a similar position.”

Reflecting on her time at CSU

Unsurprisingly, the part of CSU that Fizer will miss most is her like-minded peers, and the experience they were able to share providing support to each other.

“It has been truly inspiring to be around so many people with similar interests and passion for social justice,” said Fizer. “I am always blown away by the creativity, drive, and professionalism that my peers consistently demonstrate. I have no doubt that my cohorts will have a highly positive impact on the world.”

Plans after graduation

After a brief hiatus from school, Fizer plans to return to earn her master’s degree in social work. Until then, she’ll continue working at Tell Someone, where she’s been hired to continue advocating for students and connecting them to resources.

“In the long run, I want to become a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and be a counselor,” Fizer said. “I look forward to trying out different fields of social work and gaining new experiences and friends.”

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