August 13, 2008

Back to School: MSW Orientation Day

In case you were unaware, I will be starting my part-time grad school studies in less than two weeks. Yesterday, I attended a full day of new student orientation for the Master of Social Work program at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. Here's a recap of what transpired.

8:05 am- I arrive on campus with little fanfare. Traffic was light and parking was plentiful thanks to the fact that school is still out.

8:15- I walk to Kuykendall Hall Auditorium where I sign in and receive my obligatory packet (more like a stack) of paper- some of it important, some not. About 10 other new students are milling around the coffee/refreshments table that is set up outside. Interestingly enough, this is my first face-to-face contact with anyone from the program since applying back in January. Seeing my name printed on the list is somewhat of a relief; I guess it means this thing is really going to happen.

8:35- I find a seat inside the auditorium, a facility that has seen better days. The sound system is malfunctioning and the air conditioning is freezing. A quick scan of the other students reveals that the vast majority are women, probably by a 4 to 1 ratio. Not really a big deal because it's the same way at my job! Unlike my co-workers from the office, however, most of these folks look about my age. Ah yes, the next generation of world changers. For the record, there are about 80 incoming MSW students and over 200 altogether.

9:00- The program begins with an official welcome from Jackie Graessle, Assistant to the Dean. She touts the UH School of Social Work as an increasingly competitive and
reputable school since it is now ranked in the top third of MSW programs nationwide. While this is encouraging to know, the truth is that I picked UH mainly because of the cheap in-state tuition!

9:15- Graessle introduces Jon Matsuoka, the school's Dean, who shares his welcoming remarks as well as a few insights on impending trends in social work practice. He briefly touches on terms like "decolonization" and "indiginization" as well as what he calls the 2 concepts that will be central to the field in the near future, human healing and peacemaking. With a speaking style that I can only describe as focused enthusiasm, it's very clear that social justice and diversity are top priorities for this man, who has Ph.d's in both social work and psychology. By far the most articulate and engaging speaker on the day's agenda, Dr. Matsuoka encourages the incoming class to become "students of society." The task of the social worker is not merely to respond to societal problems, but become active "vanguards of social change" who stay ahead of the curve. There are social implications to everything from economic recessions and global warming to the development interests that threaten indiginous cultures in the Asia/Pacific region. "The old models are not working anymore," he says, "As social workers, we must develop new paradigms." I'm inspired.

9:45- A handful of other dignitaries and announcement-givers offer their friendly but forgettable remarks.

10:00- During a break, I get to know a couple of fellow students who have just moved from Southern California to start the MSW program. Erica is interested in women's issues and domestic violence advocacy while Carlo wants to focus on gerontology. Both are amiable and show a genuine interest in my strange life journey.

10:15- Mari Ono, Coordinator of Student Services, facilitates student introductions which reveal that close to half of the new students are not from Oahu. Many are from California, several are from Michigan, one is from Japan and another moved from New Zealand. Ono then runs through an informative PowerPoint overview of the program's policies, procedures and curriculum. Of the 4 program concentrations, I've decided to go with with Mental Health for now. FYI- the others are Child and Family, Gerontology and Health.

10:45- Chris Langworthy, Interim Director of Practicum, describes the rigid practicum structure which is less flexible than I had hoped. A total of 900 hours over 4 semesters are required (even for part-timers like myself) which works out to about 16 hours a week for 2 school years. The good news is that I won't need to begin my practicum until at least a year from now. The scary part is that I may not be able to remain at my current job once the practicum begins due to scheduling constraints. Apparently, evening and weekend practicums are very rare and frowned upon. There are only so many daytime hours in a standard Monday through Friday workweek and it's way less than 56! Unless I can find an evening/weekend practicum, this looming reality will undoubtedly result in some major employment decisions in the next 12 months. Some practicums are paid, but it's doubtful that they can compare to my current job's location, stability and benefits. Grad school is a noble endeavor, but health insurance for my toddler is not negotiable.

11:30- I sign up for a 2:00 academic advising meeting with a professor named Violet Horvath and ponder my class registration before heading out the auditorium doors.

12:00- We embark on a lively Library Services tour with Randy Hensley, a vivacious librarian who possesses both an encyclopedic intellect and a flair for the dramatic; sort of a cross between Alex Trebek and Anthony Hopkins. Randy highlights some of the bells and whistles at both the Hamilton and Sinclair libraries, particularly as they relate to social work resources.

12:40- After the tour, I talk with a fellow student named Art, a tall skinny lad from Oregon who has lived on Oahu for over a year now. He previously worked as a Skills Trainer in an elementary school on the North Shore, but he now wants to be a substance abuse counselor.

1:00- I head to the Campus Center to eat lunch and work on my 64-question multiple choice assessment tool which is an anonymous pre-test that we'll all have to take again next May to see how much we've learned. The topics include things like ethics, diversity, research methods, behavioral models, advocacy and social welfare policy. Interesting stuff.

2:00- I finally set foot in Henke Hall, the unassuming (dare I say decaying) parallel set of three narrow, one-story buildings that house the School of Social Work. My academic advising meeting with Dr. Horvath confirms what I feared about the practicum, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. She pencils me in for the 4-year part-time academic track (which can be shortened to 3 if I ever pick up the pace), the Mental Health concentration and two evening classes for this semester, Intro to Scientific Methods and Principles in Social Work (Tuesdays) and Social Welfare Policy and Services (Wednesdays).

2:50- With the day's mission accomplished, I'm off to get a jump on rush hour. As I walk along a scenic route back to the parking structure, I am bombarded by mixed emotions of apprehension and anticipation. As someone in the helping profession, I should know that change is often accompanied by both fear and excitement. Whatever happens, I have certainly learned a lot today. With my mind full of questions and my bag full of paper, I've got a lot to think about.

1 comment:

Dad & Mom said...

We enjoyed hearing about your back to school experience. Sounds challenging and exciting.