by Bailey Basham ('17)
When Sarah Miller was a little girl, she wanted to be a teacher. She had her answer ready for all those times when someone would ask her what she wanted to do when she grew up.
In high school, she worked as a teacher’s assistant, and she said that experience was invaluable in helping her decide that she did not, in fact, want to be a teacher at all.
“Working while the teacher was on leave was the most stressful thing I had ever done. I just was so frustrated with it,” she says. “I was working really closely with the school counselors to apply for college at the time, and I realized I was so much more interested in helping people and really being a part of the relational side. Even though I liked school, I had more of a passion for relationships. I didn’t know what that meant at first.”
So, like most young people, she took to the internet and did her research. That’s when she stumbled upon social work.
“I noticed the social work major on Trevecca’s website, and when I was reading about it, the first line said something like, Do you want to use your career to help others but you’re not sure how? And I just thought, Yes! That’s me,” she recalls. “The more I looked into it, the more I realized it was the right choice because it gives you that opportunity to build relationships and really help people.”
A BRIEF HISTORY
Allison Buzard, director of Trevecca’s social work program, has been in the field for 15 years, and says that desire to be a helper is what often brings students to social work. It’s what interested her in social work when she was in college.
“I really think it’s a calling [to want] to work with and serve and advocate on behalf of those who society has disenfranchised,” Buzard says. “Service, social justice, the importance of human relationship, dignity and worth of individuals and competence—those tenets of social work are in such alignment with my faith practice, and it feels very much like ministry for me, without the formal component.”
Trevecca’s social work program began as a social welfare major and transitioned into a bachelor of science in social work in 1995. The program was fully accredited by the Council on Social Work Education in 2014 and re-accredited this past fall. Along with classroom learning, social work majors get hands-on experience that helps them integrate classroom learning with the things they learn by doing in their field experience.
Elizabeth Nunley, assistant professor of social work and director of field experience, said there is no better way to learn how to practice social work than to actually practice it.
“Most of our classes involve applying concepts to yourself and your own life, practicing with a fellow student or breaking up into groups to take turns facilitating,” Nunley says. “It’s such a critical four years of development for college students. In the social work major, we’re talking about hard stuff. We’re asking them to look at themselves, their families, their biases, and we’re asking them to think bigger and see all perspectives. We look at these things that nobody wants to think about and to see students evolve is so powerful.”
HONORED TO SERVE
Like Miller, Victoria Outlaw had some ideas of what she wanted to be when she grew up. The daughter of humanitarian workers, Outlaw grew up in central Asia, where she watched her parents serve, love like Christ and walk through hard things with people.
“I was 16 when we moved to the States, and growing up watching [my parents] serve instilled in me that component of serving others through my work,” Outlaw says. “I think that has always been my calling. I just found a journal from eighth grade when I wrote that I was going to be a social worker. I couldn’t think of any other profession that lined up with my faith but also that I would truly enjoy doing.”
Miller and Outlaw both graduated with their degrees in social work in May 2018 and moved straight into working on their master’s degrees.
Though Outlaw knew she wanted to pursue her degree in the field, she said when she first discovered social work, she felt a bit nervous about how she would be perceived.
For many, the image of a social worker is very specific: a stiff suit coming to a family’s home to separate a child from her parents, someone sitting behind a desk processing stacks of welfare paperwork or a burned-out addiction recovery group leader droning at the front of a room full of people.
Dana Hood (’18) currently works at Bethany Christian Services as an expectant mother advocate, and she said she knew exactly how Outlaw felt.
“I didn’t want to be the person that families hated—I wanted to be a likeable person, and I wanted to build those relationships with people,” she recalls. That’s one thing that I feel like I’ll struggle with was the stereotype that all social workers do is take people’s kids away.”
Hood’s quick to caution that her experience as a social worker doesn’t fit that idea.
“If you work for CPS, you could face that, but the whole field is not that at all,” she says. “It’s about taking in the people who come to you, building relationships with them, getting down on their levels and sitting through things with them.”
In reality, social work can be difficult to define because the field is so broad, Nunley says. Social workers can be found in all types of settings—in corrections, the medical field, mental health, social services and with those experiencing substance abuse. There’s really no limit to the work a social worker might do.
“We work with brand-new babies all the way up to working with death and those who are in hospice. We work in all different contexts in all different kinds of roles,” Nunley says. “Our values and our code of ethics—that’s what is so great about integrating faith and learning and servant leadership—our profession is naturally already doing it for us.
“Our field is about sitting with and holding space for people that society has kind of forgotten and so there’s such an aspect of humility to social work that I think personifies servant leadership,” Nunley says. “People don’t get into this work for the glamour and the money. They do it because they want to serve.”
And for Miller, there is no better way to embody what it means to be a servant leader than to be a social worker.
“Going into the helping profession for me is a way to live out servant leadership and just have the opportunity to work alongside someone, help them build on their own strengths and access the resources they need to live the best life that they can,” she says. “It’s really an honor, the fact that I get to revolve my career around doing that.”
Bailey Basham is a recent Trevecca graduate and currently works as a freelance journalist. She loves writing, browsing Pinterest for new recipes to try and spending time with her dogs Ruthie (after the candy bar) and Pico (last name, de Gallo).