May 22, 2024

As the School of Social Work prepares to celebrate the class of 2024, we asked some of our graduating students about their Husky experience. We hope you enjoy this look at their journeys, insights, future plans and advice for other students. The 2024 School of Social Work Graduation Celebration will be held on Thursday, June 6th, at 7pm at Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion on campus.

Why did you choose to pursue social work?

Kelsey Conrick, PhD: I earned my Master of Public Health in 2017, and my thesis focused on the healthcare utilization patterns of individuals experiencing houselessness who were frequent users of emergency department services. During this project, I had the privilege of working with Dr. Megan Moore, whose research approach, deeply rooted in equity, critical theories and practical applications greatly inspired me. This experience led me to pursue a PhD at the University of Washington's School of Social Work, where I learned how to ground my research in social justice and use theory to inform practice. As I advanced through the program, I became increasingly excited about the unique but understudied contributions of social work to the field of firearm injury prevention. Although I am not a practicing social worker, I am honored to have been welcomed with open arms into this community.

April Pogue, BASW: I feel a calling for helping those who are either in hospice or palliative care. What I like about palliative care is that it emphasizes holistic care, addressing not only the physical symptoms of illness but also the emotional, social and spiritual needs of patients and their families. As a social worker in this field, I am drawn to the chance to make a meaningful difference by advocating for patients' needs, helping them navigate complex healthcare systems, and providing emotional support and counseling. The ability to contribute to improving the quality of life and ensuring dignity and comfort for those facing serious illnesses is deeply fulfilling and aligns with my commitment to compassionate care.

Lauren Williams, BASW: I chose social work because social work looks at the whole picture, specifically how we are impacted socially and culturally. My main interests are reproductive justice and understanding racism and its effects on us collectively. I felt like social work could give me the best chance to learn deeply about the two and make a real impact.

What are your plans post-graduation?
KC: I just started as a postdoctoral scholar in the UW Department of Epidemiology and Firearm Injury Policy & Research Program of the School of Medicine Department of Pediatrics. I’m continuing my research on firearm injury prevention, focusing on secure firearm storage interventions in communities.

AP: I will be starting my MSW advanced standing degree in July!

LW: I plan to start my MSW advanced standing program in the summer.

What advice do you have for students still in the program? (can include: career advice, finding community, program advice, application advice for prospective students, advice on Seattle living if you were out of state, choosing a specialization, etc.)
KC: The best advice I received during my time at UW was to focus on what fuels my passion and makes a meaningful impact on the communities I serve. There are many opportunities to tailor assignments, projects and research to topics that excite you, making it much easier to stay motivated and engaged when your work feels purposeful.

AP: My advice for students in the social work program is multifaceted. 1. Embrace Self-Care: Social work can be emotionally demanding. Prioritize your own well-being to avoid burnout and to be effective in supporting others. Advocate for yourself as much as you would for a loved one. 2. Seek Supervision and Mentorship: Engage regularly with supervisors and mentors who can provide guidance, support and insights based on their experience. Our teachers are so approachable. Their passion for the field is constantly refreshing and they want you to succeed! 3. Get Diverse Experience: Take advantage of internships and volunteer opportunities in various settings to broaden your skills and understanding of different populations and issues. Even if your practicum isn’t in the field you see yourself going into, it is important to push yourself and to gain knowledge about other parts of the field. 4. Network: Build connections with peers, professionals and organizations. Networking can open doors to opportunities and provide a support system throughout your career. Unlike other careers, social work is more collaborative than it is competitive. We are all in this together! 5. Stay Passionate: Remember why you chose social work. Keep your passion for helping others at the forefront, as it will sustain you through challenges and inspire your ongoing professional growth. It will also help you through bouts of imposter syndrome.

LW: For students who are starting out in the program, I would offer that you get involved in the community you’re interested in working in. Don’t wait until you graduate, start now, get to know community members outside of UW. Find what excites you and creates curiosity, and lean into it.

Can you share a specific moment or project during your time in the program that significantly impacted your understanding of social work practice?
KC: For my dissertation, I interviewed 30 social workers about how they work with clients at risk of harming themselves or others with a firearm while experiencing a crisis. I was repeatedly struck by how creative social workers are at figuring out how to support clients within problematic systems. They often felt bound by specific requirements, especially around engaging with medical and legal systems, but were extremely creative in identifying pathways to circumvent those systems when possible or creating safety measures within those systems for clients. It really reinforced what a unique and powerful contribution social workers can make to reducing risk of firearm injuries and deaths for clients.  

AP: This last quarter I took a Community Inclusion & Equity in the Changing Public Realm class with professor Arianna Cantu that has deepened my understanding of communities in the Seattle area. It gave me a deeper understanding of how the systems of oppression have impacted certain neighborhoods for decades. It also gave me a deeper appreciation for the spirit and commitment our community members have in fighting for equity and growth on their own terms.

LW: I was given the opportunity to create an independent study with another student for my senior year practicum. We created a community centered research study with a focus on reproductive justice and the Black birth work community. There is not a specific moment that impacted my understanding of social work practice but the entire year. From all the events I was able to attend to the interviews with the Black doulas and learning deeply about abolition work. Having the opportunity to work in collaboration with my research partner and friend Angelina Meikle and sinking into our interest and passion has taught me so much about being a social worker.

If you had a superhero alter ego based on your social work skills, what would your name be, and what powers would you possess to tackle societal issues?
KC: I think my name would be “Harmony Hero” and my power would be to spread giving the benefit of the doubt. I believe most people have good intentions, and that creating space for apologies, forgiveness and doing better next time fosters a more compassionate and understanding world. I think encouraging empathy and second chances builds stronger, more trusting communities.

AP: Persevera! Taking on societal injustice doesn’t always require a super power talent. It requires perseverance, and the fact that I am here today demonstrates that I don’t give up! As social workers we all need this strength to battle our societal ills.

LW: Alter ego: Astra Vox. Powers: Advocator and champion for the Black birth work community and Black birthing people. I would use my powerful voice to change the minds of politicians and encourage body autonomy and self-determination that every person deserves over their body.