By Laura Eager ’12
“Social Work? What’s that?”
Like many people, I did not know what social work was as an undergraduate. This lack of knowledge lasted until I had my first long-term substitute teaching position in 2013 at a Title I public school in Washington, DC and I interacted with the school social worker. After many years of experience in both medicine and teaching, I have recently been accepted to a graduate program in social work: Wurzweiler School of Social Work in New York City. Social work seems like a natural fit for me: I have always enjoyed helping others, especially children, and I want to make a positive impact on people’s lives while working in a variety of settings.
Why will my degree in English help me as a social worker? My peers have told me that a Master of Social Work (MSW) program requires a lot of reading and writing. In fact, one friend told me that the heavy load of reading and writing was a challenge for her when she first started her program, as she did not previously enjoy school. As an English major, I wrote multiple papers and read hundreds of pages weekly. Not only will I have to write for my professors, but I will also have to write reports and notes for clients. Reading also requires time and effort. Not only will I be reading to accomplish an assignment, but I must also comprehend what I read and be prepared to discuss my ideas in class.
Moreover, let me mention that every client has a story. I read many stories in my English classes and no two stories were alike. Every story had different characters, themes, conflicts, and so on. Likewise, no two of my future clients will be alike – they will represent a wide variety of races, religions, languages, socioeconomic statuses, genders, sexual orientations, abilities, and most importantly, stories as to why they are seeking help. The ability to critically analyze a story is an essential skill for success in English classes. As a future social work student, my job will not be to “fix” people, but rather try to understand why they have the challenges they have, ask questions that help them get to the bottom of what’s going on, and refer them to resources that will assist them.
A common phrase that I heard in my days as a student writer was “so what?” Just as I needed to be able to answer the “so what?” question when writing papers, I also need to be able to answer this question as a future social worker– whether I’m discussing social issues in my classes or working with clients in my field placements and beyond. However, the “so what?” with my clients pertains to why they need help and why their needs matter. Not only will this question influence the direct work I will do with clients, but also help prioritize policy issues.
I hope to return with an update on life in graduate school, with an answer to the key question (to quote the Avenue Q song) of “What Do You Do With a B.A. in English?”
About the Author: Laura Eager is an alumnus, class of 2012, graduating with a BA in English and a minor in psychology. She currently works as a freelancer in the following roles: administrative assistant, nanny, and workshop facilitator for Kids Turn, a program that assists children in coping with divorce. As student, she was actively involved in the English department as a Writing Assistant and president of the English Society. Laura resides in Fremont, CA but will be spending the next three summers in New York City as she works towards her Masters degree in social work.