Winter break in the Rockies…

The great state of Colorado is not my home of origin; yet, it’ll be my home for the holidays.  I don’t have ample amount of funds to travel back home to see family and friends so I’ll be spending the holidays here in Denver, and I could not think of any better place to be.  Denver is a growing metropolis—ranked 24th in U.S. population—with a small town feel; so, there’s plenty to do with plenty of good folks.  For turkey day I was able to meet-up with about 20 other random, die-hard Saints’ fans to watch football, share stories, and, of course, chow-down on a fabulous spread of food—Saints won a close one.

The festivities don’t have to stop there.  Colorado is full of fun events, activities and adventures during the winter months.  When it comes to the great outdoors, I personally don’t ski or snowboard, however, I do enjoy snow tubing and cross-country skiing.  In a couple of weeks some friends and I will make the most of a weekend getaway in the mountains.  We’ll spend a couple of nights in a cabin then make our way up to Vail for the annual Snow Daze festival.  I’ll be back in class before too long, but spending my entire winter break in Colorado will be a time well spent with fond memories.



Training Academy

The state currently has strict training guidelines for newly hired child protection case workers. They must attend an 8 week classroom training as well as many on the job activities before they can carry a caseload. Therefore before you can work in any county human services department you must be trained properly. This became a struggle recently for interns in the department of human services that had carried some cases as part of their internship but could not be hired by their county unless they went back for 8 weeks of training. Many counties could not afford the time it takes to train so they would hire workers who had been trained, overlooking interns.

This fall counties and intern supervisors took this struggle into account and allowed interns to spend their first quarter attending the 8 week training session so that they would meet state standards. This means that once interns have finished training they can be eligible for hire. This has been an asset for both interns and counties. Counties train their interns and enjoy hiring them and having them trained makes it easier to hire them upon graduation since they are also trained by state standards. Interns also enjoy this because it makes the transition from school to work easier.

As much as a struggle the workload of this training academy has been I have thoroughly enjoyed it. It has prepared me in laws and policy that I need to follow in order to work in child protection. It has also taught me skills that are very helpful when working with often difficult and unwilling families. I feel confident that my internship and the training is preparing me to be an asset to child protection.

Behind the Mirror

One of my favorite aspects of the academic experience at GSSW is the opportunities for pragmatic practice that our professors incorporate into the classroom.  Theories and frameworks for social work are of course integral and necessary, but at the end of the day, I believe I take more away from practice than theory.  Many of my professors feel the same way.  For example, as the culminating project of my Family Systems Theories class last quarter, we were divided into groups and had to demonstrate a particular style of therapy.  The four therapeutic styles we demonstrated were Solution Focused, Brief Strategic, Structural, and Bowenian.  Each group spent roughly 30 minutes behind our one-way mirror system in the classroom, engaging in a mock therapy session.  Each group attempted to demonstrate the specific skills of their assigned therapeutic style for the rest of the class to observe – such as the use of exception questions for Solution Focused therapy.  The one-way mirror system allowed observing students to discuss the mock session in real time as well as take notes.  It was a fantastic way to put our knowledge of theory into action and I am looking forward to similar experiences in the subsequent quarters.

Internship Challenges

Coming into the DU program, I knew that I would have an internship along with classes for both years, and I met with Kate Ross, one of the field placement coordinators to get a list of people to contact.  She gave me a long list and I began the interview process, ending up at a nationally recognized organization doing research and advocacy.  The program I am working is a mentoring program for children in out of home care – meaning with kin (i.e. grandparents) or foster care.  I work with two children, meeting with them individually once a week and bringing them to a sort of group counseling session once a week.

At first I was a little skeptical of DU placement for my internship, and in a way it just sounded like an advanced form of Big Brothers Big Sisters.  What I’ve found however, is an amazingly challenging and instructive internship where I’m learning how to write case notes, participate in case conferences within a clinical team, and even navigate social services to help find services for one of my cases.

Due to my previous field experience I was given two of the more challenging cases in our program, and although the cases are definitely living up to the challenging reputation, I’m loving every minute of it!  I’ve been tired, stressed, upset, and pushed to the limit – but it’s exactly what I needed and wanted!  I’ve learned so much and I incorporate what I learn in our classes on a daily basis.  My internship is definitely the perfect fit for me!

Help During the Holiday Season

My internship is at an after school program that serves high-risk youth living in the public housing neighborhoods of Denver.  With the holiday season steadily approaching, many of our families are worried about how they will be able to afford gifts for their children.  Fortunately, we have figured out a way to help them out!  This Thursday, we are having a “Santa’s Workshop” at our site where parents can come “shop” for gifts to give to their children.  All of these gifts have been donated to our program specifically for this event and are given to parents free of charge.  We even do gift wrapping for them!

In past years, this has been a very successful event as we have been able to give away gifts to every family registered with our program.  I look forward to being a part of it this year and hope that we will be able to continue to help these families throughout the holiday season!

The Graduate Classroom

The classroom experience here at GSSW has been much different from my undergraduate experience.  I often sat in large lecture halls with a seats for a few hundred to seats for 35, all without moveable desks.  Every classroom, with the exception of 1, has rolling chairs, tables that are not secured to the floors and technology!  Instructors utilize technology in their lectures and presentations including media clips that reinforce the content we’re learning about.  We also regularly work in groups to exchange ideas and brainstorm about said topic.

The most interesting classroom at GSSW is the classroom you will take all Skills Labs and Clinical courses.  It has a large mock counseling room divided from the regular classroom (think fishbowl or huge, nice police interrogation room with mirrors as walls).  This allows students to practice skills in a room that feels like a counseling office while being watched by peers and professors to receive feedback and coaching.  It’s sounds intimidating-and is!- but has been very valuable to practice my skills.

The other significant difference between the classroom experience in undergrad and graduate school is all about preparation.  You are expected to come to class having read the assigned readings and prepared to participate in a dialogue with the professor about the material.  Yes, it’s lecture but it’s not without feedback and participation from students.  This is not a one-way learning experience.  You are learning as much from the professors as you are from the readings, the input of peers, and your own analysis of each of these.

Collaboration brought to the Classroom

One of the classes I took last year involved working with offender populations. The professor was an adjunct faculty that had worked many years with juveniles who have committed sexual offenses. One of the weeks during the quarter he brought in a colleague to talk with us in more depth about adult sexual offenders. I found it nice that he was able to bring in another professional to discuss his practice with the offender population and his experiences. It was helpful to see how different professions view their work and the population that they work with. For this particular situation it was nice to hear the differences in policy because it is very different for juvenile vs. adult offenders.

Cool Quarters…

For those who have never been on a quarter system before, this is your chance of a lifetime.  DU’s Graduate School of Social Work operates on the quarter system, which was new to me when I started the program last year.  Basically, if you are in the two year program, you’ll be in class during three different segments throughout the school year (fall, winter, and spring).  Advanced standing is the same except for the required summer courses prior to the fall quarter.

Each quarter is ten weeks long.  The fall quarter curriculum starts in mid-September and ends just before the week of Thanksgiving.  This is a nice holiday gift as students are rewarded with a six week break before diving back into academia.  The start of the New Year is the start of the winter quarter, which runs to about the second week of March.  Students get a week off for Spring Break, and then it’s back to class for the spring quarter.  The spring quarter, as you might expect, starts at the end of March, and runs through to the last week of June.  The quarter system, in my humble opinion, proceeds rather quickly.  It is a nice compliment to the work that you’ll be doing at your internship, and classes are a good length for optimal retention rate.

I love my internship!

Thus far, I think my favorite part of the GSSW program has been my field experience. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed both my first & second year placements. Last year, I worked at a local community mental health as part of their bilingual intern program. I worked with a school-base therapist as well as an outpatient therapist which proved to be helpful because I was able to determine which type of setting I enjoyed more. Thus, when it came time to search for my 2nd year placement, I solely searched for internships at outpatient mental health clinics. I’m so glad I did because it has proven to be the ideal place for me! I’m working for a mental health clinic in a hospital setting. I’m already seeing my own patients and so far I have a caseload of about 20 patients. It is very exciting, but also tiring at times! Being a therapist is mentally exhausting; you have to constantly be able to switch gears and be on top of your game with every patient.

Aside from the practical skill experience I’ve gained from field, I am also able to incorporate my language abilities into my work. I speak Spanish and Bosnian. Although I’ve always known I will be able to use Spanish professionally I never really thought I’d be able to use Bosnian. Well, I have been proven wrong. This year I’ve been asked by my old field agency to provide services to a Bosnian woman who speaks no English. They haven’t been able to find an in-person translator and for this particular circumstance a phone-translator just will not work. What an awesome opportunity this will be for me, plus I’ll be paid for my services; another bonus. Goes to show that it is important to keep the line of communication open with old employers! 🙂

Lessons Learned from Multicultural Class

During the first quarter of the foundation year, all students are required to take a multicultural class.  Since I had taken several multicultural classes during my undergrad, I figured I would already know most of what we were discussing. Continue reading “Lessons Learned from Multicultural Class”