Angie Smith earned her bachelor’s in Social Work (BSW) from the University of South Alabama in 2016. She began working for the Mobile County Health Department and planned to go back to get her master’s. After she lost her husband Thomas to undetected heart disease in 2018, she began her Master of Social Work through The University of Alabama’s primarily online program.
“It had always been our plan that I would go back for my master’s, and Thomas was such a supporter of my education. After he passed, I was more driven to follow through on that dream. He was such an Alabama fan, too, so that encouraged me to consider UA,” Angie said.
Tragically, seven months before her husband passed away, Angie lost her brother Bryan to a similar undiagnosed heart problem. Bryan had been “the biggest Alabama fan,” but honoring the memory of her loved ones isn’t the only reason she chose UA. She heard about the hybrid program (including online coursework, skills labs and field education placement requirements) from colleagues and friends who had recommended it, and she did her own research as well. “UA was a top-ranked program, and that made me feel good about it. I qualified for the advanced-standing program, so that made it an easier process. And it was just great to have a prestigious, accredited program that was mostly online for me as a single mom with a full-time job,” she said.
UA’s advanced-standing program allows students who hold a CSWE-accredited BSW to earn their master’s in 42 credit hours and can be completed in as few as three semesters when pursued full time. Both the advanced-standing program and the 60-credit-hour program offer two concentrations: Children, Adolescents and their Families or Adults and Their Families. Angie was drawn to the concentration for working with adults.
“I work in mental health, so the fields of pharmacology and mental health were really what lured me into that concentration.” Her favorite course was the class on chemical dependency. “It’s the best program Alabama could offer! I liked how they taught it, the materials they used and the way they presented it in a real-world way.” She said the course helped equip her to plan client treatments for substance abuse and addiction in a more holistic and effective way. “Most of us in adult fields will eventually work with people in that population. Being able to see it from a health perspective and a mental health perspective really brought home what we should be doing from a biological standpoint and not just a psychosocial or emotional one,” she explained.
Her experience with the faculty and staff of the program was excellent. “Online programs can require more planning and time management, and they really work with you to make sure you have the best experience. I appreciate everybody from the director of the program, Dr. Sebrena Jackson, down to the field placement liaison for my internship. I still have Dr. Starks’ cell number in my phone, and she was always there. The professors go out of their way to make sure they’re helping their students.”
Angie finished her MSW in just three semesters, graduating in May 2020. She plans to return to campus for commencement, which was delayed until summer due to COVID-19. She’s excited about being able to wear honors cords from two different honor societies, Golden Key International and Omega Nu Lambda, an honor society exclusively for online students. “Finishing a master’s is an accomplishment in and of itself, but wearing those cords brings an extra level of pride,” she said.
“Most people don’t realize this but in most social work jobs, you really need a master’s to be able to see and treat people. For me, it’s opened up a whole new door to be able to see more people and for advancement opportunities for leadership roles in my career.” Angie said the concentration she chose matched her career goals. “My ultimate dream is to go back to UA to get my doctorate of Social Work (DSW) and open up my own mental health substance abuse clinic one day.” UA also offers its DSW in a primarily online format, and since Angie is a UA graduate, she will be eligible for the Build on Bama tuition grant, which can cover the cost of the first class of her doctorate if she chooses the Bama By Distance option.
She is the first in her family to earn a master’s degree and it fills her with a sense of achievement. Her brother always wanted to go to Alabama, and she knows that he would’ve been her biggest supporter. “Being able to graduate from a school he didn’t get to attend is a big deal to me. He and my late husband will be in my thoughts and in my heart as I walk across that stage.”
Published: September 4th, 2020