Spotlight on social work

During National Social Work Month, a student shares her perspective.

Shealene Wolgast is a UMD Bachelor of Social Work student who agreed to share some insight about her chosen career path and her internship experience.

Why did you choose the field of social work?

The field of social work is such a challenging, but rewarding field. I love the flexibility in what type of format you can practice social work. There are so many different ways to practice social work and help people, whether it be at the individual level, group/community level, or national level. 

It is fulfilling work as the mission behind the social work profession is to enhance human well-being by empowering people that face issues related to living while promoting social justice and social change. This is what drew me in. It is meaningful to be an individual that can help address discrimination, oppression, and other social injustices that significantly affect the diverse populations we work with. There is a great need for social change in our communities and overall society as a whole and I am excited to be in a career where I can take part in this process—helping people one step at a time.

Where is your field placement and what is your role there?

I am currently a social work intern at Neighborhood House in St. Paul. Neighborhood House is a great organization that primarily serves low-income, immigrant, refugee, and underrepresented communities through several programs that address housing, food, adult and youth education—and supports a variety of other basic needs. I am placed at Francis Basket Food Market, one of their two food markets, in addition to working at one of their six family centers where food and services are provided to clients at no cost. At the family center, I can assist households with food, diapers, household items, hygiene materials, clothing, and complete applications and referrals for outside resources. 

What have you learned from this experience?

This experience has been extremely valuable as I have gained many professional and human skills, such as the importance of collaboration, empathy, and open-mindedness for all people. I have learned a lot from the people I have been working with, including clients, staff members, and other social work interns. This experience has shown me the importance of human relationships as well as making connections between what I have learned from class and what a social work career can look like. It has helped me feel a little less scared about joining the workforce after graduating. 

Additionally, it has allowed me the opportunity to meet amazing people from diverse communities from all around the world. I have learned so much about cultures that I had very limited prior knowledge of and I love having the opportunity to simply learn about people from people themselves. 

How will this hands-on learning influence your career path?

I have learned so much about nonprofit work and the passionate work behind social services with the goal of bettering people’s lives. This hands-on learning has provided me with an increase in confidence in my professional skills and knowledge that I have chosen the right career field. I have been able to visualize and experience the mission of the social work profession firsthand and apply what I have learned in classes to the lived experiences that real people face daily. 

Overall, this experience has shown me how valuable it is to participate in work that provides individuals with basic human needs that I believe every single person deserves and assist them while they are navigating through life. I am excited to join the fight for social justice for vulnerable populations in whatever future career I choose to pursue.